Friday, December 9, 2016

Cracked's interesting but self-refuting argument

"Why Pop Science Matters - Lowest Common Dominator"

I've got some thoughts on this, but to avoid any spoilers, we'll talk about it after the break.

This starts out as a clever albeit fairly standard piece on silly pseudo-science stories getting widespread credulous coverage, but it then veers off into an unexpected direction. The closing argument is that even bad science reporting, ranging from the silly to the demonstrably false, serves the useful purpose of getting people, particularly young people interested in STEM fields, while doing relatively little damage.

Implicit in the argument is the assumption that fun, accessible, click-friendly science requires compromising substance and accuracy. This isn't an outlandish argument -- if anything, it would fall in the sensible and intuitive category -- but at least in the context of this video, it's a strange one to make because a notable counterexample is the site making it.

Both and College Humor have shown that it is possible to consistently produce science, technology, and public policy articles, videos, and podcast that are smart, well researched, substantive, highly successful, and very entertaining. Both show that it is entirely possible to get the story right and still bring in the traffic.


  1. I grew up as a fan of Mad magazine. Cracked magazine was oleomargarine to Mad's butter. Now Cracked is the place to go for often meticulously researched and insightful humor.

    1. Cracked was definitely what you bought when the news stand was out of Mad. Now it and College Humor (another retread of a forgotten brand) are at or near the top of a very competitive field (John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee).