10 October 2006

Oh dear, more ranting about the state of science journalism

Had any journalist I know written anything as tortured as this item in the otherwise usually sensible Adventures in Ethics and Science, or the even more confused original that provoked it, their job would evaporate overnight.

Underlying this guff is a complete lack of the scientific method that upsets these folks. They simply do not back up their theses with anything in the way of evidence. Anecdotal observations don't add up to a case.

Many years in the business have taught me that most complaints about inaccuracy of science reporting are down to two factors:

  • the reporters fail to present absolutely everything they are told, with all of the provisos and references to "co researchers" that are the stuff of science;

  • the scientists simply do not understand how the media operate.
There is a third one, misspelling the researcher's name, but we can overlook that.

Without any evidence of what it is that upsets these folks, it is hard to know which of these might apply in this case.

The first thing that a writer does is to check their spelling and to read what they write to see if it makes sense. For example, as well as an "obeservation" in this one, the original post contained:
"basic facts that had already been masticated in the form or press releases"
Apart from the smarty pants used of masticated, and the fact that any mastication would have been checked by the researchers involved, they probably mean "in the form of press releases".

Actually, the sentence itself smacks of an amateur writer. Why is there that phrase "the form of" in there, "masticated in press releases" says the same thing in fewer words. While I am at it, what are "basic facts"? Do they differ from other types of facts?

While it is not usually fruitful to dismember the writing that appears in blogs, grammatical correctness is an alien concept in blogdom, it is different when they rant on about writing. People who cannot write should think twice before commenting on the subject.

I could go on, but when the thing descends into a ramble about the state of education, you know that you are entering alien territory.

On the original post, they seem to be complaining about a TV reporter. These people are very different from newspaper reporters. Which brings us back to the point of knowing about how the media operate. To dismiss the whole of science journalism, as "Pinko Punko" does, on the basis of the behaviour of one TV crews is perverse and unscientific. It is like rejecting the whole of medical science because of the behaviour of Josef Mengele.

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