More on science reporting

Those of you who saw this last week might be interested to know that it has been followed up. It’s well worth reading this follow-up article too and the author makes some good points. I get to feel a bit smug at this point by noting he mentions several things that I have long railed against (though people might listed to him more than me).

However, one thing stands out as missing in his analysis which was featured heavily in the original parody. He makes no mention of the problem of ‘balance’ – getting the ‘side of the story’ from people who don’t have a side / evidence / understanding of the issue. Science journalism is about science, not fringe group / new age / tin-foil hat nonsense. They don’t get a say in what is or is not good science or what work should / should not be done and you giving them space does not make for balance, it makes for uninformed people spouting rubbish and being given credibility by you for asking them and quoting them in the first place.

This is a serious problem with the worst of science reporting. Even if this is not that common as I have described it, even searching for an antagonistic quote from another researcher doesn’t help matters. Sure not all science is great and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of scepticism over a new result, but couching every story as a controversy neither builds public confidence in anything about science nor gives an accurate picture of what the work means.

Anyway, that’s my 2c. Go and read the articles.

Oh and since it seems a good time to mention it, don’t forget the PPC on your way to SVP.

7 Responses to “More on science reporting”

  1. 1 David 06/10/2010 at 8:51 pm

    That “they don’t get a say” bit… brilliantly said. I couldn’t resist tweeting it with my link to this post.

  2. 2 mattvr 07/10/2010 at 11:18 am

    I think asking another researcher their opinion is actually encouraging in an ideal world. It might demonstrate a willingness to engage with the story and do some research.
    Of course, not being an ideal world, they really want a controversy to get more clicks, not an actual attempt at enlightening their readers further.

    • 3 David Hone 07/10/2010 at 12:01 pm

      Oh I don’t mind the ‘Professor X said…’ side of things. But I have seen plenty of incidences where they have deliberately sought out counter-point opinions (presumably) just to swell the controversy level. This is not good as it makes everything look controversial when a) everything is at some level because there will always be one guy who disagrees, and b) it gives a false impression of the state of play. Science is often about consensus and just because there are guys out there who things birds are not dinosaurs does not mean that they are not or that even a significant number of researchers think they are not. So asking them for a vox pop every time a new feather study comes out is asking for trouble and causing it.

    • 5 David Hone 14/10/2010 at 11:57 am

      Oh go. Soemone please explain that you cannot be ‘impartial’ over facts. Things are, or are not. And public opinion doens’t count when the public are un /ill / badly / mis informed.

  1. 1 Tweets that mention More on science reporting « Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings -- Trackback on 06/10/2010 at 9:10 pm
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