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Science Send-ups

Could it be that satirical news sources like The Onion, The "Daily Show," or the "Colbert Report" do as good a job getting to the truth of science's place in modern American culture as mainstream consumer publications? Possibly, Joanne Manaster writes for Scientific American.

Manaster has pulled together some memorable segments from these faux outlets, including an Onion "interview" with a genetic engineer who designs and grows Disney's latest batch of child stars, or a "Daily Show" segment on whether or climate change, evolution, or genetically modified foods.

Some observers have started taking notice of the ways these satirists are using their craft to offer some "critical perspectives that are often missing from leading print and television news sources," as Laura Feldman writes. Feldman is a contributor to a new book about news satires called "The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impacts of Fake News." One science-related example the authors offer is a Daily Show bit that highlights "the ridiculous assumption that scientists are 'grifters' out to make a bunch of money."

Another observer, Paul Brewer, wrote about the Daily Show and the "social construction of science" in the International Journal of Communication last year.

He says the "Daily Show" has run many stories on scientific topics, and "despite its humorous tone" has become a "leading source of scientific coverage," primarily because it has millions of viewers.

Brewer and Feldman also point out that traditional news media have a problem with climate change, as they report it through "balanced coverage" that presents voices of the dominant scientific perspectives and of climate change skeptics.

The "institutionalized and professional journalistic practice of balanced reporting has served to amplify a minority view that humans’ role in climate change is debated," they write, while the "Daily Show" presents the reality of anthropogenic climate change as a settled matter, Manaster notes.