//\ Esc

Ok, poor joke, but this is a quick attack on the media (who knew?). Thanks to some helpful backlinking I found this story on Science Buzz. Basically it reports on bad science reporting and how it could be done better, with commentary from Brian Switek and a nice link to one of my essays on here about how reporters could make dinosaurs stories more accurate.

Great you may think. Not only have the media actually chosen to report on how badly the media can be at reporting on things, but have even suggested that readers and journos alike should brush up on how this all works and where they can go wrong. Cool.

Only then I found this, published just a couple of months later by the same writer and, wouldn’t you know it, utterly failing to take heed of things I had said, and he had suggest people read and advised people to follow. Why bother? I mean, really. When they even read it and know about it and tell others to do it and STILL don’t do it themselves, why bother.

Note: normally I do add comments to such stories to highlight these errors directly to the person concerned. For once I didn’t, partly becuase I’m frustrated, partly becuase it never seems to make any difference at all, and in this case becuase it’s also quite a bit late in the day for an article from June.

8 Responses to “//\ Esc”


  1. 1 mattvr 11/09/2010 at 1:57 am

    I think the immediacy of the internet has much of the blame here.
    It demands as much content as quickly as possible and damn the accuracy, we just want the hits on our site!

    I wonder if scientists need to make bullet point summaries in (really)simple English for the press… including things the discovery *doesn’t* mean!

    Scientists need to be careful about commenting outside their own field too.
    Recently had this slip up by no less than the President of the Australian Scientific and Technological Societies:
    “Unfortunately 30 per cent of Australians think reptiles or dinosaurs and humans were alive at the same time, for example, which is probably something I guess worries us.”

    The irony was she was discussing a survey about science literacy.

  2. 2 Steve O'C 11/09/2010 at 3:58 pm

    >>I wonder if scientists need to make bullet point summaries in (really)simple English for the press… including things the discovery *doesn’t* mean!<<

    This is exactly what they need to do! Stating ''this discovery *doesn’t* mean…..''' is especially important, considering the the media's habit of reinterpreting research.

    I'd also say that Scientists need to be carful about what they say in interviews. Like the whole ''what came first, the chicken or the egg'' crap that happened a while back. The researcher merely joked about it and the press treated it as some sort of factual statement. It's sad we live in such a world but if a scientist is going to joke about something then they better make it clear that they are joking. :/

    • 3 David Hone 13/09/2010 at 8:36 am

      I have seriously considered the bullet point approach, but the problme there is that this looks so patronising (and it is, even if it is essential) that I suspect many journalists won’t read it or will ignore it. I know the better ones will, but then they don’t need to be told.

      Plus there is also the issue here as noted with the Tarbosaurs problem of late, of them picking up papers on their own initiative and screwing things up. We don’t even get a say then in what they have done with our work. In that case them having the slightest clue about what they are reading, or understaidng that they should ask becuase they don;t understand becomes paramount. But they don’t do it.

      • 4 mattvr 13/09/2010 at 12:13 pm

        Perhaps a press release with full blown copy for journalists to paste into stories?
        Journalists seem to be getting through without even a decent grasp of the English language.
        Recently a local TV reporter said ‘The committee meeted….’ and my local paper printed a story titled ‘Con Men Pray on Local Residents’

        Asking them to grasp anything beyond the basics may be optimistic..

      • 5 David Hone 13/09/2010 at 12:40 pm

        Well yeah, there is that. But the theme of this post was that even soemone who seems to get this and understand it and appeal to people to correct this stuff, then goes and makes those exact same errors himself. How can you correct for this?

  3. 6 mattvr 13/09/2010 at 2:55 pm

    I guess one way would be to give the preferred method of science writing value to the journalist.
    The specifics of reporting on Palaeontology would need to become essential.. can you see that happening when even journalists who purport to care can’t get it right?
    For palaeontologists it may become a brutal editing process, what is most important to convey and what simply won’t matter to anyone beyond your peers?
    Frankly, I think you’d find bullet points wildly successful in the modern hourly news cycle.


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