Newspapers often like to report on new scientific advancements. They often do a terrible job. They may sensationalise the story. Or confuse a project proposal/preliminary study with a result.

We can perhaps forgive them, and take the blame on ourselves for not making papers clear enough for them to understand. Or not. This question is not about inaccuracies in reporting however. This question is about poor referencing of the scientific article they are talking about -- making it hard to track down the original source.

Because of the often low quality of the newspaper reporting, it is important to be able to find and read the original scientific article.

When you tell a fellow about a new paper that came out, you are bare minimum include the title, and the names of the authors, and generally the year, and publication venue too.

Recently I have seen major newspapers failing to do this.

For example The news paper article:

Is talking about:

But all it mentions is the name and affiliation of the first author, and the name of the journal -- an even these are hidden in the text, rather than in a nice block.

We can compare this against a specialized scientific news source:

Which gives full detail, including a DOI, in a nice source block at the end. I've also seen this sometimes in newspapers, but it is not ubiquitous. Sadly, the newspaper I mention above (The Australian) is probably the most reputable mainstream newspapers in my country (if you know a better one I'm interested).

What can I, as a concerned (read: busybody) academic, with no affilation to the article being written about, do to work towards countering the poor practices of these newspapers?

Right now, what I am doing is everytime someone links to a news report on social media I hunt down the original paper, and link them to it by commenting on there post. This solves the problem for one person, and for people who follow them.

But can I be countering it overall? Is it worth writing to the newspaper, providing a request that the clean up there act? Should I perhaps contact the authors of the paper, informing them of the (petty) injustice the paper is doing to their work, by not referencing it correctly?

  • Perhaps a follow up question might be worth having with regard to blogs. Jun 8, 2016 at 2:09
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    In my experience, newspapers hardly ever list the title of a paper they mention; this isn't new. Good ones will usually give the author and the name of the journal, and perhaps the publication date ("appearing in the current issue of Nature"). Jun 8, 2016 at 2:14
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    Indeed it is not new, but long term bad practices is still bad practices. Jun 8, 2016 at 2:17

1 Answer 1


Given that most newspapers don't have their own "on-staff" technical writers to handle such articles, I doubt that writing a newspaper and pleading with them to include more information about the publication will be very helpful. More importantly, providing large amounts of technical detail is frankly not what a newspaper is meant for. The best you could reasonably expect is that the web page for the article might include a link to the journal page. But you should probably not expect full details of the publication on the web page itself.

For sites and publications like Ars Technica, the situation is different, since they're much more science-oriented. Then it would be reasonable to politely email the author of the article you're interested and request that the additional information be added.

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    ... or post a comment asking for the info to be added to the article, if it's posted online.
    – ff524
    Jun 8, 2016 at 2:36

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