20 July 2008

On the Media on Science 2.0: Sounds good to us!

[Rant alert - I'm starting to get real tired of this nonsense. Although it is proving to be good blog fodder, and it got me published in the letters column of Science. Maybe it's not so bad. And but so ...]

Wired editor Chris Anderson is on this week's On the Media, talking up the Petabyte Age. And OTM pretty much swallows it whole.

Photo by Pixelsior.
The Petabyte Age, as Anderson describes it, is the present time in which massive volumes of data (petabytes, in fact) are supposedly marking the end of the scientific method. If you actually read the Wired story, you'll discover that Anderson has a pretty shaky grasp on what the scientific method actually is, and apparently thinks that "statistical analysis" is not hypothesis testing. As it turns out, it is.

On OTM interview, Anderson recants the sensationalist headline, possibly in response to the long string of critical comments it drew on Wired.com. But he repeats all of the mistakes and nonsense that generated the criticism: Craig Venter sequenced some seawater without a prior hypothesis, and Google summarizes lots of data to look for patterns without prior hypotheses; ipso facto, no one needs hypotheses anymore. (Anderson insists on talking about "theories" rather than hypotheses, which only highlights his unfamiliarity with basic philosophy of science.) The interviewer, Brooke Gladstone, pretty much lets him have his say. Does she then consult an actual working scientist, or, better yet, a philosopher of science? Not so much.

This is not the sort of coverage I've come to expect from OTM, which is basically in the running with RadioLab for the title of My Favorite Public Radio Show. Normally, OTM specializes in pointing out exactly this sort of failing in other news shows - interviewing pundits without actually talking to people who work in the fields in question. But it would seem that they don't feel the scientific freaking method is important enough to cover properly.

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