Do New Scientist’s Headlines Make Sense?

When I was in school, I was asked to par­tic­i­pate in a debate: “Sci­ence: A Cure Or A Dis­ease?”. Yes, my school sucked.

Since then, I’ve been observ­ing how the dis­ci­pline of sci­ence remains large­ly mis­un­der­stood or not under­stood at all.

New Sci­en­tist has just pub­lished “13 more things that don’t make sense”, a sequel to their high­ly pop­u­lar “13 things that don’t make sense” arti­cle in 2005. Both the arti­cles give you a brief glimpse of phe­nom­e­na that sci­ence has yet to under­stand and are an inter­est­ing read for know­ing more about cut­ting-edge exper­i­ments and yet-to-be-for­mu­lat­ed the­o­ries.

If you observe the domain of the “13 things”, they deal with

  • Issues of time, space, mind and body
  • The world beyond human sen­so­ry per­cep­tion either on a micro or macro scale
  • Time spans vast­ly beyond that of human life

Is this sur­pris­ing in the least? If you con­trast how long sci­ence has been in exis­tence com­pared to the uni­verse, life on earth, and the begin­ning of homo sapi­ens, to say that nature has an unfair advan­tage would be a huge under­state­ment.

On the one hand, I am hap­py that arti­cles like these catch pop­u­lar atten­tion. They serve to gen­er­ate inter­est in sci­ence among the gen­er­al pop­u­lace. Carl Sagan is best known for his mis­quot­ed phrase “bil­lions and bil­lions”, though he nev­er uttered it in the entire Cos­mos series. Catch­phras­es work and are some­times jus­ti­fied.

On the oth­er hand, I dis­like the lame attempt at sen­sa­tion­al­iza­tion. How many times have you heard or read “unex­plained”, “mys­ter­ies”, “unan­swered” in the con­text of sci­ence? There are no mys­ter­ies in sci­ence, only in nature.

New Scientist’s 2005 arti­cle remains the most for­ward­ed arti­cle in the site’s his­to­ry. The article’s pop­u­lar­i­ty led to a pop­u­lar book of the same name. If this were a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion pop­u­lar­iz­ing sci­ence, I wouldn’t have writ­ten this post. In Jan 2009, it ran a cov­er with the title “Dar­win was wrong”.

The mag­a­zine has been crit­i­cized by sci-fi writer Greg Evan:

The com­bi­na­tion of a sen­sa­tion­al­ist bent and a lack of  basic knowl­edge by its writers…is ren­der­ing it unre­li­able often enough to con­sti­tute a real threat to the pub­lic under­stand­ing of sci­ence.

And did you notice the use of the num­ber 13?

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  • Oh Dang! we had those Sci­ence: Curse or Boon debates too. I have nev­er real­ly raed the New Sci­en­tist. that and Wired fall into the same cat­e­go­ry…

    • Oh, I thought my school was the only one that indulged in such (mis)education!

  • PS: Whats with the ran­dom mix­ing of fonts dude??

    • Er, it is not ran­dom. Not a bug, but a fea­ture, of the theme! 🙂

      What has hap­pened in this post specif­i­cal­ly, that all the typo­graph­i­cal ele­ments of the theme are exposed because of the length and the use of the bul­let­ed list.

      I’m not entire­ly hap­py with this theme, and this is one of the things I would have liked to cus­tomize. But well, until some­thing bet­ter comes along!