Huxley on the media (ish)

Nope, not as you might expect on here the great T.H. Huxley, or for that matter his grandson the other legendary biologist from that family Julian, but indeed the younger brother of the latter – Aldous Huxley. I happened across this (rather long) quote in his series of essays ‘Brave new world revisited’ (1958) in which he talks about the problems of writing the collection of essays itself and how he wishes to convey much more than he can in a limited space, but means not to distort or misrepresent what he wants to say. It is a brilliantly written summary of what I have long complained about in terms of the media coverage of science. That it comes from a non-scientist (albeit one who wrote on science and science fiction and himself came from a great line of thinkers and scientists) and recognises the inherent flaw of the media a half century ago, yet remains exact, specific, relevant and pertinent is both impressive and worrying. If he noted this 50 years ago, why has the media not spotted that he may just have a point? Brevity is good, getting things wrong is bad, and it’s your job to learn to do it right.

He writes:

“[L]ife is short and information endless: nobody has time for everything. In practice we are generally forced to choose between an unduly brief exposition and no exposition at all. Abbreviation is a necessary evil and the abbreviator’s business it to make the best of a job which, though intrinsically bad, is still better than nothing. He must learn to simplify, but not to the point of falsification. He must learn to concentrate on the essentials of a situation, but without ignoring too many of reality’s qualifying side issues. In this way he may be able to tell, not indeed the whole truth (for the whole truth about almost any important subject is incompatible with brevity), but considerably more than the dangerous quarter-truths and half-truths which have always been the current coin of thought”.

Pretty much perfect from where I’m sitting.

2 Responses to “Huxley on the media (ish)”

  1. 1 Zach Miller 26/06/2009 at 7:38 am

    I completely agree. Fifty years ago, you say? They must not tout this quote in journalism schools.

  1. 1 Is this the worst media coverage of pterosaurs ever? « Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings Trackback on 22/08/2009 at 5:03 pm
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