The New York Times has a terrible habit of filling out their science news section by dredging out old discoveries, dusting them off, and presenting them as new, late-breaking, exciting discoveries that have the potential to change the world.
Recent examples of this have included
- an article about how the action of DNA in the human body is complex (well, duh!), — er, sorry, that’s the financial pages… The points made in that article were common enough knowledge to generate one of the most memorably difficult assignments from my 1988 class in human genetics;
- another on how the onset of ovarian cancer can be marked by a limited set of regrettably non-specific symptoms, which lists findings I recall reading about in a review published sometime in the late 90’s;
- another on the idea that the desertification of fertile land in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia has global environmental implications – I remember having this point made to me in elementary school!
- I could go on and on…
Please understand, I’m not generally opposed to publishing articles that educate the public about the scientific truths in the world around them. Frankly, most of us didn’t learn enough science in our primary education, and refreshers throughout life are welcome.
I’m just frustrated by the implication that this is new knowledge. It always makes me expect to see articles such as “Scientists discover things fall because of phenomenon called Gravity!” (… “This will change everything about how we design space ships”, said one NASA spokesperson. “Now that we understand this, you can expect our shuttles to stop exploding”…). Or, how about “Hospitals revisit protocols in light of newly-discovered germ theory of disease!” or perhaps an article about how the discovery that the world isn’t flat has huge implications for the tourist industry.