The tricky business of reporting breaking science

With thousands of studies taking place every month all over the world, a science reporter can find ample material to cover. The problem with science, however, resides in the very nature of science.

The very nature of science is that it is ever evolving. It has a tendency of discrediting itself nearly every decade or so. Most of the things that are proven today will probably be disproven in 10 or 15 years (with the exception of the really amazing discoveries).

So how can a science journalist report on new research and not lose credibility when it is disproven?

This is indeed a tricky question, especially for medical reporters writing about new drugs. Imagine the people who reported some years ago about the wonderous new drug Vioxx and how it will solve all the problems that traditional anti-inflammatory drugs had. I bet they didn’t feel very good when it was proven to have some very serious side effects on the heart and was completely pulled off the market!

And then the plot thickens. How can you wade through all those studies to find the ones that are worth covering?

And what is the proper way of going through research to determine how serious is it? There are so many issues to keep in mind. Do you read the conclusion only or do you have to go through the whole paper, which can take much longer? After all, many studies are done and funded by interested parties. This is especially true with new drug research. Most research in these fields is performed by large pharmaceutical companies. Can you trust everything said in the conclusion? Are there any important pieces of information that are buried somewhere within the research?

It is a really touchy issue. No one wants to lose his/her credibility with readers. So the big question is this: How can you cover science research and not fall into the many pitfalls of new, exciting studies?