It ain't necessarily so. Is a book about how the media can feed us a false sense of reality. The cover explains: "how media make and unmake the scientific picture of reality" the book goes into various ways that the media can create, change, and ignore scientific research data and twist it to give us an incorrect perspective of the way things really are. It is split up into these three parts: part one - the ambiguity of news, part two â€“ the ambiguity of measurement, and part three â€“ the ambiguity of explanation.
News that isn't there
Media ignore important information. Research that contains information that the public should be aware of is sometimes simply bypassed by the media. Examples of this are when the aids diagnosis fell in 1995 and tuberculosis was found to be an all time low. Newspapers around the country had, a few months earlier, published flawed results that the aids numbers were higher than ever, so the newspapers conveniently ignored the results that showed aids being low. The people already had it in their minds that aids was out of control, so that wasn't the kind of news they wanted to hear. Reasons to not report this are most likely explained by the template theory, which says that the media tend to report news that fits a certain mold or takes a certain stance and tend to ignore news contradicting the way in which they see the world, the way others see the world, or the way media want others to see the world. In psychology, humans tend to ignore things around them that disagree with their beliefs and opinion, and pay more attention to the things that do.
Overblown news stories:
Following on the same template theory idea. Information that served ideas that the media wanted to promote could be created from little to no evidence. Something like beta or flawed research could be blown up into a big article and made seem like more than it is. Environmentalist have a huge influence on the media, so an inherit pessimism, especially towards humans as the cause of problems, is present. When plans to bury radioactive materials at Yucca Mountain, in Nevada were first being considered, one scientist hypothesized that the waste would eventually leak and cause explosions. There was no research or data to back up his claims, and the proof he needed was incomplete. The vast majority of scientist nationwide disagreed with him and he himself even said that there would be no danger for thousands of years, yet the media took interest in his opinions and presented it to the public to frighten them and lower their trust in the safeness of nuclear energy, and in "destroying" yucca mountain. A study found that sperm cells had dropped almost fifty percent in the last fifty years. Human' s increased technological luxuries such as processed food were supposedly to blame for this. What it did not take into consideration was that the study was extremely controversial and its conclusion was that there was nothing to conclude. It may have been from the fact that there was no information for thirty-three of the fifty years of that they collected data only from a small group of men who couldn't possibly represent the entire male population.
We are misled by scary statistics that aren't always true. For instance we constantly hear these scary statistics on rape, violence and accidents, sometimes to the point that we are scared to live in this society. Many of these statistics come from unreliable research drawing unreliable conclusions. Surveys are used to find the percentage of the population are raped, but how is rape to be defined? And how many people will lie on a survey because of ill feelings about a sexual experience that he/she regrets (or just lie in general) Sometimes violent crime can be defined as something as trivial as a swear or threat. And a car accident as merely a bump or scratch. When a statistic showing a horrible thing is shown, it's common for the majority of the cases to be minor deals and the minority of the cases to actually be the big deal, or the scary knife man that we fear as we walk into burger king.
Information is sometimes from indirect sources that may not represent the truth. A conclusion can be drawn from a proxy that disregards other potentially potent variables. Living near electrical wires has been thought to increase risk of leukemia because of the magnetic force. When a slight correlation was found, the electrical wires were blamed when other factors, such as the fact that people having to live near wires make lower income, therefore had less money to feed their family, were ignored.
Half Empty or Half Full?
Statistics and data can be spun to put a positive or negative side to the facts. They can be presented in an almost contradictory fashion such as if in a two man race one man proclaims "I got first" and the other claims "I got second, Dave got second to last". The same thing can apply to research and how it is portrayed. The census showed that the number of married couples increased in the past few years. Many media outlets reported on this. What they failed to take in consideration is that the population has also grown in the past few years and the percentage of married couples has actually gone down significantly. Another instance of this is the all time high in the percentage of women with aids. It seems like a bad thing but in fact it's partly to do with the fact that the number of men with aids went down, and even the number of women with aids went down. It is actually a very good thing, just not quite as good for the women as it is for men. The spin this way seems almost pointless unless you consider the motives behind presenting it like this. Attention was given to this fact to give us the feeling that aids was an "equal opportunity scourge" subliminally defending gay men, who make up many of the aids cases for men.
Newspapers are interested in telling us the answers to the findings of polls and the conclusions and their interpretations of them, but answers are sometimes determined and always influenced by the question. So the answers can sometimes be meaningless unless you know the questions that elicited them. Questions can be worded tendentiously so as the produce the answers desired by the sponsor organizations. Polls misrevealed public opinion on the finding for private schools and television and also the percentage of the public that doubted the legitimacy of the holocaust by strange and/or inaccurate wording of questions asked. Questions with double negatives can confuse potential respondents.
Reporting hazards is more about reporting events than issues, short term rather than long term effects. Stories rarely offer information about risks. When reporting on risks very little direct information is provided and the reader is to determine the amount of danger from a covered hazard. The media select specific hazards for emphasis that fit their template criteria. Sometimes no data exist to support alleged risks. The common perception that breast cancer is a huge risk to the average woman is largely the effect of a group of die-hard activists exaggerating the dangers from the disease. The perceived risk was six times greater than the actual risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer. Meat poisoning that killed four people got media coverage. Those shocked by it proposed an improved meat inspection plan and used fake statistics to support it. The plan failed because it did not really ensure safety. Appearance of deformed frogs in Minnesota made a front-page story. Chemicals were blamed for the deformities that could cause potential threats to human beings, although this was never proven. This brought attention to completely harmless chemical pollutants next to Love Canal. Journalists have the tendency to construct a story that fits a predetermined narrative theme about victims and villains, often with evil humans as villains. Good reporting about risks urges issues to be solved; bad reporting encourages fear, which solves nothing.
It is important to differentiate between a report and reality. A case that claims that a certain event has increased or decreased doesn't always mean that it has happened because sometimes it is merely the number of events reported that is increasing. This reported instances of something would logically infer than the actual cases have gone up as well but that is not always the case. Sometimes people are more likely to report rape when they are more assured of the anonymity of their report. Child abuse is more reported because the definition for child abuse has become stricter throughout the years. It is important to think about the other possible variables when deciphering the results given by the media on reports.