Whether you’re talking about science or journalism, the “truth” can be a subjective thing.

Let’s take scientific research, as an example.

The world of “scientific studies” can be a minefield of misinformation.

I’ve said for ages that you can find a study to “prove” (or disprove) virtually any hypothesis (and the same is true with news reports.) But how can an ordinary person tell when information is misinformation?

If a study cited seems outrageous, check out the following:

  • Who performed the research? 
  • What are the qualifications of those doing the research?
  • Who paid for the research?
  • Who benefits from the research?


The “truth” can be measured by a sliding scale in science and journalism both.

Here’s a perfect example of questionable research being cited as fact

This morning, the BBC reported that the number of women having Caesarean sections is affecting human evolution.

The regular use of Caesarean sections is having an impact on human evolution, say scientists.

More mothers now need surgery to deliver a baby due to their narrow pelvis size, according to a study.

Researchers estimate cases where the baby cannot fit down the birth canal have increased from 30 in 1,000 in the 1960s to 36 in 1,000 births today.

Historically, these genes would not have been passed from mother to child as both would have died in labour.

Researchers in Austria say the trend is likely to continue, but not to the extent that non-surgical births will become obsolete.

Dr Philipp Mitteroecker, of the department of theoretical biology at the University of Vienna, said there was a long standing question in the understanding of human evolution.

“Why is the rate of birth problems, in particular what we call fetopelvic disproportion – basically that the baby doesn’t fit through the maternal birth canal – why is this rate so high?” he said.

Okay, sounds logical – except that evolutionary changes in humans don’t happen that fast. Not even close.

But here’s what other experts say on the topic

There are numerous papers, from far more reliable sources than a professor of theoretical biology, that point to human evolution taking tens of thousands of years to show an effect. Tiny weeny changes that occur on massively lengthy timescales, not just a few decades.

Oregon State researchers say:

Across a broad range of species, the research found that for a major change to persist and for changes to accumulate, it took about one million years. The researchers wrote that this occurred repeatedly in a “remarkably consistent pattern.”

Yes, they concede that sometimes small changes can occur rapidly, but those changes rarely, if ever,  persist longer than a couple of generations.

The Smithsonian has this to say on the subject:

Evolution does not change any single individual. Instead, it changes the inherited means of growth and development that typify a population (a group of individuals of the same species living in a particular habitat). Parents pass adaptive genetic changes to their offspring, and ultimately these changes become common throughout a population. As a result, the offspring inherit those genetic characteristics that enhance their chances of survival and ability to give birth, which may work well until the environment changes. Over time, genetic change can alter a species’ overall way of life, such as what it eats, how it grows, and where it can live. Human evolution took place as new genetic variations in early ancestor populations favored new abilities to adapt to environmental change and so altered the human way of life.

Often evolutionary changes are cited when in fact there are none. Here’s an example. As a species, we are taller than we were a few hundred years ago. Is this an evolutionary change or better nutrition and early childhood care? The latter, according to the experts.

We have been increasing in height for about 140 years. Prior to that, there were cycles in height, depending on economic circumstances and agricultural productivity and so forth. We were relatively tall in the Middle Ages, when population densities were relatively low and food supplies were still fairly adequate. The low point was in the 17th century. Frenchmen, for example, were about 162 cm on average [not quite 5 ft. 4 in.], which is extremely small. Only since about the middle of the 19th century has there been a general trend upwards. (source)

It’s not all about genetics and evolution

Some women don’t have a birth canal wide enough to give birth to a child naturally, and safe delivery of that child means surgical intervention. The rise in C-sections across the board is most likely linked to a variety of things other than the evolution of a smaller pelvis in a very short space of time.

Litigation is always a major factor in the medical world, and in many cases, a better safe than sorry approach is employed.

Then we have the women who want to have a C-section. They elect not to give birth naturally.

Cesarean section rates are increasing globally, partly because many patients acquire the procedure on request without clinical indication (source)

In the UK in particular, these women, who have the right to chose a C- section rather than a vaginal delivery, are referred to as “too posh to push” by medical professionals. Even the mainstream media has picked up on the phrase.

This is sort of like “fake news”

So, in the case above, there were two flaws. The original research was flawed and the news report was flawed. Both presented the information as “”truth” but there were errors in their processes.

You can never cite just one source as definitive. There are all sorts of reasons that a scientist – or journalist – might provide a skewed perspective on a topic. With the news, you can ask almost identical questions to the ones you’d ask about a scientific study.

  • Who performed the research? 
  • What are the qualifications of those doing the research?
  • Who paid for the research?
  • Who benefits from the research?

Just like with scientific studies, in the media, the truth can be measured on a sliding scale.

That’s your analogy for the day.

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