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Sloppy Science

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Welcome to Sloppy Science! We're here to collect your amusing and/or annoying anecdotes of science illiteracy in the media. Scientific misconceptions spread in the news and popular media are misleading and confusing, just like bad grammar in a respectable newspaper.

A word on "nitpicking" communities in general: if they're going to do any good, they have to exist primarily to educate others. Maybe you nitpick because it makes you feel smug and superior, but try to keep that tone out of your posts whenever possible. Having said that, there's nothing wrong with a bit of moral outrage at the level of ignorance in our culture. Show the world that it's cool to be smart, and that people who act dumb just look... well, dumb.

Remember to have a sense of humour, too... people who take themselves too seriously fall the hardest when someone calls them out on a mistake.

We're not looking for junk science or pseudoscience (take those to shampooscience), or religion masquerading as science (that goes to endcreationism), or urban legends (try Snopes).

We are looking for scientific and mathematical goofs, gaffes, and ignorance in popular culture. Common misconceptions and misuses are welcome. Here are a few examples...

  • The Discovery Channel in Canada ran an ad that began "In a galaxy 56 light years away..." 56 lightyears is well within our galaxy, practically next door to our own solar system. The ad wasn't about a galaxy anyways-- it was about a nearby star. The scrolling words on the screen suggested that it was supposed to be a Star Wars reference, but it fell flat with their smart and geeky audience. (They quickly fixed the mistake and the ad now says "In a star system 56 light years away...")


  • A grocery store's flyer contained a coupon that promised a savings of "0.55 cents" if two bottles of salad dressing were purchased. They should have said $0.55 or 55 cents. 0.55 cents is just over half a penny. It's hardly worth cutting out the coupon.


  • CNN.com once ran a story about tides, claiming that tides will be higher than normal when the Moon is full. Do they think the Moon is more massive when it's full? The phases of the Moon are determined by the amount of Earth-facing side that is sunlit; a completely-lit-up Moon (from Earth's perspective) has the same gravitational influence on our oceans as a completely dark (new) Moon. Just because we can see more of it doesn't mean there is more of it.

Post your sightings to the community, with a reference to the original material whenever possible. If we can get enough confirmed examples, we might put them into a book.

  • Online sources: a link to the page

  • Books: title, author and page number

  • TV shows or movies: title, and episode title/number where applicable

  • Periodicals (newspapers and magazines): title, issue, and article

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