Almost every day, I see a headline that starts with the words “scientists say”…everything from “Scientists say pizza is better than money for motivating employees” to “scientists say men who are good listeners are better at sex.” Sometimes the headlines go even further and assert that “science says.”
If you try to track down the actual headlines behinds these assertions, you will often find a study done on 40 or so undergraduates, sometimes using questionable methodologies, on which the journalists base their imprimatur of ‘science says.’ And very often, you can’t ever read the study unless you’re willing to pay $30 or more for the privilege, because it’s in an access-controlled journal. This doesn’t stop the university PR departments from issuing breathless press releases about the study conclusions, though.
It’s sort of sad–scientific publishing was once a way of disseminating information; now it functions largely as a means for limiting access to information. I have a hard time understanding why publicly-funded research shouldn’t be required to be publicly available on the Internet at no or minimal cost.
I think the ‘scientists say’ and ‘science says’ memes would not work in a society where most of the population had some degree of scientific education. Science is not shamanism, and scientists are not oracles.