Washington Post journalist Rob Stein has cited the recent drama of Woo-Suk Hwang’s data fabrication as a reason for increased skepticism among science reporters. Firstly, I find myself a little disbelieving about his statement, since (unfortunately) data fabrication is all too tempting (and hence common). Someone reading scientific media regularly would be well aware of this, and 2005 was a particularly bad year for it.
Secondly, it’s usually the general media’s fault that science is grossly misrepresented to the public. Any glance through the health and science sections of so-called quality media (such as Time magazine) will reveal poor understanding and explanation of scientific issues. In Australia, at least, reliance on press releases is common, as is sensationalist reporting of preliminary trials (usually ones run by pharmaceutical companies). The media doctor website keeps track of several Australian publications’ health articles.
However, Stein is correct in stating that journal editors are often hard-pressed to detect fabrication. Realistically, scientists will fabricate data if they feel they can get away with it, so maybe what’s needed is more verification of data (by independent researchers) before we get all excited and hail the next cloning god.