Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear science journalists,

Last week, three physicists were awarded the Nobel prize for discovering that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

That's all I know about it. I don't even know their names. But I do know that when you drop the last four words off of a sentence, its meaning often changes.

We've known the universe is expanding for a very long time, since Edwin Hubble, in the 1920s and 1930s, observed that galaxies that are farther away appear to be moving away from us at a faster rate than nearby galaxies. (Think about it for a second: If you draw dots on a balloon and imagine yourself living on one particular dot, this is what the other dots would appear to do when you blow the balloon up, thereby expanding the ballooniverse.)

In 1998, three physicists discovered that this rate of expansion is increasing. If you need to abbreviate to fit that in a headline, say the prize was awarded for the accelerating universe theory.

I wish I'd bought the [relatively reputable] newspaper I saw at the corner store so I could quote verbatim and confirm which paper it was exactly, but it was essentially "Berkeley physicists wins Nobel Prize for discovering universe still expanding." I'm utterly baffled as to how the `still' got in there, on top of omitting the relevant information.

Really. I know science is hard*, but how hard is it to read and quote the already-dumbed-down blurb released by the Swedes? I sure feel bad for the scientists whose discoveries aren't so incredibly easy to describe. They must come through the media-filter as utter nonsense.

*I'd say `harder than journalism' but that's just too snarky even for me :)

1 comment:

ambrus said...

You need a "like" button on your blog so I don't have to think of a witty thing to say in response.