Sunday, December 20, 2009

More Bogus Science Trivia

I noticed a couple of people clicked through on the link to the answers, and one person even left a couple of comments. So once again, in the name of keeping you informed, here are the choices for Steve Mirsky's Bogus Brainteaser: one of the stories below is bogus. Have you been paying close enough attention to know which? (Click the prior link for the answer and explanations.)
Story 1, famed primatologist Jane Goodall wrote to a judge on Staten Island urging him to send a woman to prison.

Story 2, another New York City story, the Department of Health last week removed bees from the list of animals that New Yorkers are prohibited from having. In other words, beekeeping is poised to be legal again in New York.

Story 3, another stinging story, many species of catfish actually produce poisonous venom.

And story 4, people with large fingertips have more touch sensitivity.
Fair disclosure: two of the stories were unfamiliar to me, but I recognized the one that misstated the news.

The reason I refer to items such as the above as "trivia" is not they they are necessarily unimportant, nor certainly not that they're uninteresting, it's that they represent little facts devoid of their broader context and relationships. There has been a fairly big blow-up in the geoblogosphere, especially the vertebrate paleo section, due to science being misrepresented in a major media production. (I've been meaning to get to this, and still may; here are a few places to start, if you want to plow into this on your own) This is the result of media types knowing their trivia, but not knowing their science. Science trivia knowledge does not equal science literacy. Trivia is often wrong. It may be thought correct at some point, and become part of broad cultural knowledge; meanwhile, scientists mercilessly test and challenge the "facts." So sometimes the facts change. Of the above (assuming they're stated correctly), at least three might potentially change, given the differing challenges they face. They might not, but they might.

So pay attention.

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