Science on newspapers & magazines? Be aware of what you read

Last week I stumbled upon a very interesting website, called Climate Feedback. As you might have guessed, the goal of this website is to give scientists-backed feedback on divulgative  articles on climate change that appear here and there on newspapers and magazines. The results, not surprisingly, are fairly discouraging. Many articles covering climate change topics are found to be flawed, resulting in a great disservice to those outside the scientific world that do not have the tools to verify the data in the magazine articles they are reading. What is surprising, instead, is that the sheets flawing data are some of the most influential and read newspapers out there. Among them, even Forbes failed to produce trustworthy content for its readers. There is a widespread trend worldwide involving the so-called clickbait, consisting in viral content posted and re-posted ad nauseam, often with the goal of generating traffic on the website in order to gain money out of it. Clearly, all of this is at the expense of truthfulness and accuracy. Needless to say, this trend includes some of the media giants of press, like the CNN or the British The Telegraph. This happens in the so-called hard sciences, like physics, chemistry, biology, climate science, and medicine. But not only there. Humanist sciences (term I firmly reject,  because 1) any science could be humanist, and 2) some of them, like linguistics, are more similar to mathematics and physics than they are to literature, but we’ll talk about this on another post) also fall victims to this clickbait trend, mainly because their results are the hardest to reproduce. Going back to linguistics (which I call the atom physics of language) I found that given that we all talk, everybody feels entitled to write something about the way language works. Does it make sense? Is everybody able to talk about neuroscience just because we all have neurons? Well, of course, 80% of what I read online about language is pure and trivial nonsense.  Some of the most annoying content includes the soda/pop battle, how many names do Eskimos have for snow? or which American accent are you? Is this linguistics? Yet again, needless to say, absolutely not. Today, for example, I read an article on the Guardian on the way women should talk wrote by an historian who wishes to give us all pretty ladies some useless and unscientific advice on how to talk. What’s the difference between an article wrote by a linguist on language, and some trivial stuff wrote by someone who knows nothing about it? The gap in the middle is immense. Unluckily for linguists, almost nobody knows what linguists do, so almost nobody asks for their advice. Some of the most important topics- like the origin of language, its structure & the way it works, its links to identity, its biological and neural basis, or how the superficial differences between all languages hide a common structural ground, are left to people (grammarians above all!) who, just because of the fact they hold a degree in some humanist science think they’ve got it covered and that they have the tools to discuss about it. Sadly, it takes more than that. Syntax is more similar to informatics than grammar,   and linguists are bordeline scholars who jump from genetics to physics and from neuroscience to programming, just to cite a few. So is a MA’s in English or History enough to talk about language? Doesn’t seem so. Journalists have a responsibility, and when they do not have the tools to cover a topic, they should leave it to an expert.


Italian idioms: Ambaradam

Un ambaradam di gente; Un ambaradam di colori. Literally meaning a confused plethora, the idiom ambaradam is one of the last linguistic vestiges of the Fascist regime, whose non-Romance origin easily stands out.
Going back to the Fascist attempt to create an Italian empire over Lybia, Ethiopia, Somalia, and EritreaAmba Aradam is the name of a mountain 500 km north of Addis Abeba, Ethiopia.

On this very mountain, the Italian Army fought to conquer Ethiopia, and some tried to convince the local tribes to agree to a compromise with them, thus generating a confusion between the two parties.

In a Roman neighborhood, particular for many examples of Fascist architecture, San Giovanni, there is a street entitled Via dell’Amba Aradam.

Via dell’Ambara Adam with some houses under construction in 1936, the fourteenth year of the Fascist regime. Gallery by Roma Sparita