Adventures in Ethics and Science

I’m blaming the folks at Three Bulls! for the post that incited this one. Indeed, I started my descent into what is clearly a delusional plan in a comment there.

The short version: Pinko Punko was disturbed at how very little actual communication of content was involved in a presumably science-centered media frenzy. The “journalists” in question neither sought actual informative content from scientists (let alone striving to understand that content), nor passed on anything like it to their viewers. To those of us who expect journalism to communicate actual content (or at least try to), this is disturbing.

Hoping that perhaps, from this brush with media frenzy, Pinko Punko could offer a more precise diagnosis of the problem, I asked:

Is it a supply-side problem — primarily, one of incompetent science journalists, or of journalists who think they understand more science than they actually do? If so, could this be the answer to our oversupply of science Ph.D.s (i.e., send them to the press conferences and the newsrooms)?

Is it a demand-side problem — with the public unable to get the least bit interested about science (at least when there’s a good Congressional sex scandal or a celebrity behaving badly), or interested but without the requisite understanding of the most basic details of science to really “get” the scientific findings they might be interested in?

Do the people on the supply end misjudge the interest or intelligence of the people on the demand end?

Can we lay this all at the feet of people who use print, audio, and video news to sell ads?

The diagnosis? Probably all of these are at work. That means it’s time for a cunning plan (which in its present form involves no turnips but possibly a little mind control). Here is a slight elaboration on the manifesto I posted at Three Bulls!

We must infiltrate the ranks of teachers to convince the wee consumers-in-training that science is cool AND that you don’t need a larger-than-average brain to understand the basics of science.

Of course, this probably means that in the long term, we need to re-examine what’s involved in teacher training — not only to ensure that student teachers know their science and have a well-stocked pedagogical toolbox, but also to ensure that the science-lovers are not driven away by an ed-school curriculum that is not sufficiently interesting and/or challenging. Paying teachers a decent wage seems like it could help here as well.

We must build in the populace an inexplicable hunger for truth — or at least, for reporting grounded in solid evidence. (I’m not sure how to do this. Perhaps repeated screenings of A Few Good Men?)

No really, we can handle the truth!

The next part of the plan is partly in response to Pinko Punko’s observation that “what was also going on besides the murder of scientific facts was the murder of other facts, like moving quotes to different contexts or simplifying quotes. What we would call fabrication, what they would call sloppiness.” Once we’ve developed a hunger for truth (rather than for mere truthiness), “sloppiness” is not going to do the job:

We must then hijack the broadcast signals (which should be a trivial matter with the help of Science) for demonstrations of the fabrications and falsifications in the “journalism” (whether on science or other matters) that has gone out already. After this, our crack “truth squad” will break into transmissions to set the record straight as necessary.

When accuracy matters to the news consumer, surely news organs will be able to cough up the funds for serious fact-checking, right?

We must extend the attention span of the consumers of news. (ADD meds in the water supply? We’ll figure somethin’ out …)

OK, putting drugs in the water suppy might not be the best way to do this. But getting over the idea that anything worth knowing has to be something you could get from a 30 second soundbite is absolutely essential. Here, I think local and network TV news are probably as much to blame for short attention spans as is everyone’s favorite attention-span scapegoat, MTV.

We must kidnap the celebrities and replace them with doubles who inexplicably talk about recent work in science when interviewed on the red carpet or after their DUI arrests.

Actually, we don’t even need doubles in every case. Danica McKellar could (and does) chat about the intellectual challenge of proving mathematical theorems. Milo Aukerman, Greg Graffin, and Dexter Holland could organize a biology conference/punk rock festival. Surely there are others.

If there were an actual clamor for science reporting that was detailed, informative, and grounded in fact — a clamor not just from scientists but from the people, speaking in large numbers — then news organizations would have no choice but to provide it, lest they lose their audience (and ad revenue) to someone who would. Right?

I mean, the mass media can’t effectively convince the people not to care about science, can it?

Comments

  1. #1 Daniel Collins
    October 9, 2006

    We must then hijack the broadcast signals (which should be a trivial matter with the help of Science) for demonstrations of the fabrications and falsifications in the “journalism”…

    Kinda like FactCheck.org? Bring it on.

  2. #2 Sandra Porter
    October 9, 2006

    Nice post! You’re absolutely right.

    There’s one point that you brought up, where the responsibility needs to be shared a bit between different groups.

    You say:

    ..but also to ensure that the science-lovers are not driven away by an ed-school curriculum that is not sufficiently interesting and/or challenging.

    But I don’t think it’s the ed school curriculum. Pre-service teachers, unfortunately, take science courses from the rank-and-file science instructors. I think much of the damage happens in those large survey courses that are designed to thin the ranks of aspiring pre-meds.

    Unfortunately, there are people who teach science at the college level who need to learn that good teaching is something that can be learned and applied in a scientific manner and, that making an effort to teach well is not the same thing as “spoon-feeding” your students, it is a service to society.

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    October 10, 2006

    If there were an actual clamor for science reporting that was detailed, informative, and grounded in fact — a clamor not just from scientists but from the people, speaking in large numbers — then news organizations would have no choice but to provide it, lest they lose their audience (and ad revenue) to someone who would.

    Or to provide something that looked enough like it to fool the average joe. Which is kinda what they currently do.

  4. #4 Pinko Punko
    October 10, 2006

    Needs more Bwa Ha. What about mind-controlling nanobots? PROBLEM SOLVED!*

    *other problems created. Like mine tailings, we won’t be responsible!

  5. #5 Bill Hooker
    October 10, 2006

    the mass media can’t effectively convince the people not to care about science, can it?

    The tongue, it is firmly in the cheek, no? (Viz, is there any greater contributor to the cult of cool that seems to surround wilful ignorance everywhere I look?)

  6. #6 Tom
    October 10, 2006

    We need more celebrities like Brian May (guitarist from queen) who still regularly appears on “The Sky at Night”, a long running popular british astronomy program. He even worked on at a Ph.D. for a time, although did not finish.

  7. #7 Michael Kenward
    October 10, 2006

    Had any journalist I know written anything as tortured as this, and the 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.

    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, the original post contained this:

    “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?

    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 one TV crews behaviour is perverse. It is like rejecting the whole of medical science because of the behaviour of Josef Mengele.

  8. #8 Lab Lemming
    October 10, 2006

    How often does the scientific method appear in journalistic articles about science?

  9. #9 gengar
    October 10, 2006

    On the supply-side, as someone with a PhD who applied for *lots* of media jobs (publishing/editorial side mainly) I came away with the impression that people would much rather employ someone with media experience and little scientific background than a scientist with little media background.

  10. #10 Super Sally
    October 10, 2006

    If there were an actual clamor for science reporting that was detailed, informative, and grounded in fact — a clamor not just from scientists but from the people, speaking in large numbers — then news organizations would have no choice but to provide it, lest they lose their audience (and ad revenue) to someone who would.

    But will the sponsors pay if the audience demands factual presentations? Might they not then demand actual truth in advertising??

  11. #11 beajerry
    October 10, 2006

    I’ll tell you who can ‘bring it’: Librarians!
    They are a force that is almost impossible to ignore.

  12. #12 drshellie
    October 11, 2006

    It’s very hard for science journalists to get the scientific facts right without being specialists in the field. It would help to let the scientists whose work is being covered check the work for accuracy before publication. Unfortunately this clashes with standard journalism practices, designed to maintain “objectivity”– the subject of an article is rarely shown the article before print.

  13. #13 Pinko Punko
    October 11, 2006

    Mike, sorry for stepping on your toes. For certain reasons I couldn’t give the exact play by play, but it you’re gonna spelling flame, I might have go credentialist on your sad behind (and ad hominem!).

    In all seriousness, if you don’t think I said anything reasonable, just say so. For example, I am an amateur writer, nor do I claime otherwise. I could give a play by play of helpful information provided in several PRE-CHEWED press releases concerning a recent scientific event that would have resulted in more accurate and informative news stories had they BEEN READ VERBATIM. I could point you to instances of inaccuracies in facts, both incredibly basic and those more complicated in nature, if you wish to be pedantic, and I think you do.

    I could then go on to point out inaccurate quotes, and by inaccurate I mean words between quotation marks that were not said in the order presented, and with elision unnoted. I could point out an article by the AP Science Writer, not a TV journalist, a print one, in which he/she/it presents a completely inaccurate view of the discoveries noted based on uninformed questions that he asked in a press conference without having digested at all a provided press release, nor to have listened to helpful opening remarks designed to inform in a simple way exactly the nature of the discovery. Upon receiving a polite, but slightly negative answer in response to his uninformed question, he merely followed up with the same question again. His piece reflected that his agenda was to pigeonhole the work into a standard science reporting template, i.e. possible therapies for unnamed diseases, no matter the science.

    In reality, my post was not devastatingly convincing because I keep blogging about things that are directly related to the non-anonymous portion of my life, thus I am unable to be as specific as I would like to be. Trust me, your argument relating to a typo on my part wouldn’t stand a chance. You’d be dead to rights. That being said, I’m sending you a polite e-mail now so we can hash this out.

  14. #14 Pinko Punko
    October 11, 2006

    I also love the use of the term “smacks.”

    Of course there can be these cases:
    # 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.

    I think my point was I was decrying exactly how the media operate. I know that those in media cannot take any criticism since they are invariably criticised for everything. However, it takes a highly self-aware individual to not reflexively get defensive upon criticism, nor to preemptively suggest such defensiveness as motive for the criticiser. We call that “projection.”

    My thesis was mostly for fast moving news, where the appearance of coverage appeared to me to be the only important thing, not the actual coverage. Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor do discoveries. While the entire history of science can’t be presented every time a discovery is made or a prize is awarded, it seems like there is always some small piece of realistic context that could be given. For example the public’s conception of the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology is always driven by press medical sensationalism, something that does not affect the Physics prize. In fact, I think the presumption that the general public may not understand the prize in Physics, there usually seems to be more grounded and more basic explanations for those prizes. Not so with things that related to basic research in biology. If there is a stretch to be made it will be.

  15. #15 Michael Kenward
    October 11, 2006

    Lots of points in here. I still cannot follow the writing of Pinko Punko. Then again, I have always disliked anonymity among journalists and can see no reason why scientists should hide behind such a smokescreen especially when they oh so subtly hint that they are truly Great Scientists.

    One poster writes:

    It’s very hard for science journalists to get the scientific facts right without being specialists in the field.

    This is true. But science these days is so specialist that only six people really understand the deepest bits of a subject. Most science journalists have a far greater breadth of understanding than most researchers. More important, they know that they don’t know everything, unlike too many scientists.

    Whenever I talk to people about science writing, which is pretty often, I always tell them that it is a journalist’s job to ask stupid questions. The simpler the better. The hack’s job is to represent the reader, not the scientific community.

    On a related tack, as to the observation that:

    It would help to let the scientists whose work is being covered check the work for accuracy before publication.

    Plenty of science writers will happily show their victims copy of a purely descriptive nature. They will also check facts and quotes. If there is time, which is not always the case. They will not show you the articles they write about more “political” issues.

    The person who wrote:

    people would much rather employ someone with media experience and little scientific background than a scientist with little media background.

    does not say which jobs they applied for. When I was recruiting, I wanted both. Scientific knowledge was essential. But the publication I edited was too big and ugly to operate as a training school. We shamelessly recruited from the “trade and technical” press. My advice to would be journalists is to start at the bottom of the food chain.

    It may be written from a British perspective, but it could be worth reading this:

    So You Want to Be a Science Writer?

    There is also an excellent “Field Guide” produced by the US National Association of Science Writers.

    I am not sure what to make of the comment:

    How often does the scientific method appear in journalistic articles about science?

    Journalism isn’t a science, or even an art, just a trade that anyone can learn. It does, though, hit home at something that I consider to be completely lacking in most science writing. It rarely discusses how science is done.

    Then again, that may be because scientists themselves are among the first to complain when anyone goes down that road. They behave as if science happens by magic, untouched by human hand, and is not the product of a cut throat business.

    By the way, Brian May has just got a new science book out.

    Finally, I should have added that I picked over grammar and spelling because it is germane to the discussion. Some very bright scientists are simply incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence. Fortunately, my experience is that the better the scientists, the more they appreciate that writing is another domain, and the happier they are to work with professional communicators. (Jeez, that’s a horrible word, but that’s what they call them these days.)

    Complaining about writing is usually a lost cause in e-land, where such matters are considered irrelevant, which is why they often fail to communicate with any clarity. Just look at some of the stuff that appears on this page. Mind bogglingly opaque. And it isn’t even about heavy science.

  16. #16 llewelly
    October 11, 2006

    We need more celebrities like Brian May (guitarist from queen)

    Like Greg Graffin ?
    Okay, Bad Religion will never be as popular as Queen. Even so…

  17. #17 Pinko Punko
    October 11, 2006

    Mike,

    I am not anonymous because I am an awesome scientist, and I have not hinted at anything of the sort. I merely mentioned to you in an e-mail that I have a very close view of events that led to my original post. I was not blogging from on high, nor was I blogging from distance. Arguments about anonymity SMACK of ad hominem assertions.

    I beginning to think you are an emu, and a per, and a chundermuffin. It is you that are generalizing with abandon, and you that are responding to criticism of science writers with irrelevant attacks on scientists.

    You happen to be a science writer. I’m sure in your specific cases you do a wonderful job. I am a scientist. I would not defend any scientist merely because there are scientists. Why do you defend all science writers as if they were a monolithic brotherhood?

    It is not hard to come up with circumstances where science has been miscommunicated by media to the public, and in many of these circumstances the fault can be ascribed to the science writers, or worse reporters who are not versed in any aspect of science. In many cases, there is evidence of an institutional effort to get the science right for the journalists in question, in the form of institutional PRESS RELEASES, organizational PRESS RELEASES, PRESS CONFERENCES, facilitated interviews with trained professionals and what not. How is this not clear to you?

    If you view this page to be opaque, where are your questions concerning “what do you mean by this?” or “I think this is unclear” or “based on my understanding of what you wrote X, here is what I think Y.” You haven’t said anything like this, because the page above is not unclear, and you are merely grinding what looks like a pre-existing axe. You seem to be commenting in bad faith. Perhaps your mind got too boggled?

    If I didn’t understand a point made by Dr. FR, I’d say so, especially if it were germane to the discussion. A discussion about shitty writing all over the web, especially by big bad scientists I’m sure is an interesting topic, but doesn’t it seem like hijacking of the thread?

    If your argument is that flawed science writing by the US press, even that by those not trained in science writing, is due to arrogant, unclear, and stupid scientists, you just don’t have a leg to stand on. If your argument is that some of the flaws in science presentation in the press are due to poor communication by scientists, I’m sure everyone would agree. The argument, it seems, advanced by many people on this page is that in general, even perfect communication (even Platonic in its ideal) by scientists will not result in good science coverage in the press in many cases, specifically that of the US press.

    Discuss amongst yourself, after you’ve deboggled.

    It is also highly annoying that you seem to imply that scientists have all these superiority complexes, which is just not true. Who’s the arrogant one? Clue: it’s you.

  18. #18 Michael Kenward
    October 12, 2006

    If you view this page to be opaque, where are your questions concerning “what do you mean by this?” or “I think this is unclear” or “based on my understanding of what you wrote X, here is what I think Y.”

    I did not go into details because I wanted to make a quick point and I do not believe in throwing around gratuitous insults. Nor did I say this page is opaque. I actually wrote that “some of the stuff that appears on this page” is “Mind bogglingly opaque”. (So much for your abilities in reporting and quoting.) But since you insist:

    However, it takes a highly self-aware individual to not reflexively get defensive upon criticism, nor to preemptively suggest such defensiveness as motive for the criticiser.

    A good subeditor would have a field day here. There are plenty more, but life’s too short.

    I have not accused all scientists of being incompetent communicators. I have not cleared science writers of all responsibility for writing crappy stories.

    I have tried to inject into this discussion a view from “the other side”.

    If anyone is interested in a real discussion on this subject, they are probably in the wrong place. I suggest trying to track down some of the growing body of research literature on science in the media. I’m no fan of that sort of research, but some of it is not bad.

    That research literature exists partly because a new industry has grown up over the past 20 years or so. It goes under the banner of “Public Engagement in Science and Technology”. Affectionately known, in recent years at least, as PEST, it started in the UK, following an influential report from the Royal Society.

    The PEST bandwagon has brought together scientists, communicators, including journalists and others. PEST has even become embedded in the science policy of the UK Government.

    The biggest achievement of this activity has been to bring together the various constituencies. This means that we don’t see too many of these pointless harangues from scientists trying to score points rather than trying to understand the processes involved.

    You can read one result of this continuing activity here. You can read the official press release, and download the report, at the Royal Society.

    This shows that there is a positive enthusiasm for communication among many scientists. In the UK at least. They would not do this if they considered all science writers to be beyond the pale.

    I repeat my earlier invitation to show me examples of shoddy and inaccurate coverage of science so that I can understand the criticisms, and see that they are genuine, rather than the rants of someone who rants for the sake of it.

  19. #19 Bill Hooker
    October 12, 2006

    Arguments about anonymity SMACK of ad hominem assertions.

    I dunno. You do go on, and drop dark hints about how connected and important you are (“for certain reasons”, etc). If you won’t step out from behind the pseudonym, you have to argue from public facts instead of hints and mutterings if you want to be taken seriously.

    In your original post, you write:

    I could go point by point over the inaccuracies reported or essentially fabrication of quotes in these stories, but what is the point?

    The point would be to say something of substance, instead of a string of whiny generalizations which have no value unless the reader accepts you as an authority (which, being anonymous, you cannot expect).

    Further, it’s hardly ad hom to point out that one has to read most of your sentences twice just to parse them, when you are complaining about someone else’s inability to communicate effectively.

  20. #20 Pinko Punko
    October 12, 2006

    Or we could play blog style nitpick.

    I didn’t expect anyone to accept my authority. I just wanted to comment on something that happened around me, knowing that my anonymity caused a massive limitation on my argument. You guys can take it of leave it. You could either use your massive, editorially transparent super brains to consider whether there may be any grains of truth to what I said, or you could take the easy way out.

    I repeat:

    If your argument is that flawed science writing by the US press, even that by those not trained in science writing, is due to arrogant, unclear, and stupid scientists, you just don’t have a leg to stand on. If your argument is that some of the flaws in science presentation in the press are due to poor communication by scientists, I’m sure everyone would agree. The argument, it seems, advanced by many people on this page is that in general, even perfect communication (even Platonic in its ideal) by scientists will not result in good science coverage in the press in many cases, specifically that of the US press.

    It takes 20 comments to get to where people say “I don’t accept your argument because you don’t present specific data. This is of course ignoring that science is presented all the time, and if I were actually interested in it or the perception, I could actually check below the surface to see if it is presented correctly. I don’t do that. I’d much prefer to call scientists whiners and poor writers.”

    If we were serious about communicating with each other, we’d want to know what each of our perspectives were. I’d check out Mike’s page and writings. I’d see that he is a technical science writer for trade publications and higher end (Financial Times) newspapers in the UK. I would realize that his persepctive is much different than mine, being a researcher in the US, whose little rant seemed to cover mass-market journalism here in the States. Could it be possible that we both may be generally correct in our assertions?

    This part is wonderful:

    Further, it’s hardly ad hom to point out that one has to read most of your sentences twice just to parse them, when you are complaining about someone else’s inability to communicate effectively.

    Even with the massive handicap of my tortured English, do you really want to draw the trite equivalency between a rant on a blog containing my perceptions and the base inaccuracy in some sectors of scientific reporting? This has turned into a stupid flame war, which I’m pretty sure was never the point of many of the people discussing what they perceive to be a problem.

  21. #21 Janet D. Stemwedel
    October 12, 2006

    Look, y’all, I don’t want to turn into the civility police or anything, but I would appreciate it if everyone commenting here made an honest effort to argue in good faith, and to assume as far as possible given the facts in evidence that others are not arguing in bad faith.

    I hope we can grant that there exist both gifted science writers and heinously bad ones — and that this would almost certainly be the case whether science writing was, as a whole, in really good shape or in really bad shape.

    I hope we can agree that reporting that purports to be about science should involve some sort of commitment to get the facts straight — not just the facts of who actually said what, and in what context, but the gist of the scientific finding and its context as well.

    This post, as some have noticed, was primarily focused on the “demand-side” of science journalism (in which I’m including TV and radio journalism, knowing full well that these are different media from print journalism). In other words, my main concern was how to create more of a market for good science reporting (since I hear repeatedly that news outlets are just giving the people what they want). In other words, I am not launching a full-on attack of science journalists here. If I’m dumping on anyone, it’s the American public.

    Clear writing: I’m for it, and I’m just as bugged by typos as the next person (maybe more), but that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes make typographic errors or construct clumsy sentences. I cut journalists some slack here, too. Communication is hard.

    Anonymity: Sometimes it’s necessary, and obviously it’s harder to judge the authority of people who use pseudonyms. This doesn’t mean the people using ‘nyms don’t have useful point to raise, just that we have to consider them without falling back on the real-world authority of the person raising the point. I think we can handle this here. (More thoughts on anonymous blogging here.

    Carry on.

  22. #22 Bill Hooker
    October 12, 2006

    I am not launching a full-on attack of science journalists here.

    No, but PP is. And he or she has said nothing but “science journalism sucks; I base this on my experience; I can’t tell you what that experience is because then you’d know who I am”.

    How am I supposed to take that seriously? I’m all for anonymity and quite prepared to take PP’s word for it that it’s necessary for him/her — but if you are going to be anonymous, you cannot expect people to just take your word for things. You have to argue from public facts. PP has produced exactly no facts in the course of five or so comments plus the original post. And then we have comments like this:

    Trust me, your argument relating to a typo on my part wouldn’t stand a chance. You’d be dead to rights.

    Er, no. I don’t trust you. This kind of “no, really, I’m right, I just am” psuedo-argumentation chafes my scrote even when the perp is not anonymous.

  23. #23 Pinko Punko
    October 12, 2006

    Bill, there are several other lines amongst my emotional flamery where I state exactly what I am riled up about- mass-media presentation of science. I know the the trees may be prickly and garbled, but if it has not been clear before, let me make it clear now. I can’t go back and change my post, but I can modify and clarify in response to comments. J claims in her post here that reading my screed was a launching point for her musings on this topic. Nobody asked me what I meant or to elaborate in a way I felt comfortable (concerning my anonymity), and certainly nobody came over to my post to talk about my post. That leads me to think that people would just rather be mad than engage. I have not presented specific facts because I am trying to remain anonymous. I have described “facts” as being instances that fit under the categories of misquoting, incorrect statements, possible reporter agendas and the like. Of course I ask to be trusted, while I have no expectation that that will be the case. However, my inability to formally convince of the validity of my personal experience has no bearing on whether what I am saying is true. There are several other avenues for investigating whether such a thing could be true. Additionally, our argument is not the sole deciding factor in this debate in general. Are there not many other Sciencebloggers discussing the same thing? Do you personally feel satisfied with television and print media coverage concerning things that you are in a position to know in great detail?

    I admit that I am at a massive handicap in discussing my experiences while trying to remain anonymous. There are more options on the table other than trusting me or not. You could rely on your own experiences to ask “is it possible that some aspects of what P. Punkass said may be true? Might I glean from his rant a kernel of truth from what he said, or does my experience in, say, reading press coverage about something I know initmately fit with his experience?” To do this would not require any extra facts presented on my part, because you could do some work on your side.

    If our entire argument revolves around my use of the term “science journalism” when I most likely really meant “the presentation of science by journalists in the mass media,” don’t you think we could have gotten to it before now? And if that is the core of the argument, why not just say it? Regardless of my ability to be clear, I think you probably have an understanding of what I said, or possibly what I meant but didn’t say.

    If we are already pissed off before we get to the table, how can we even discuss anything? I actually tried to engage with Mike outside of the public internet, as part of a possible first step of outing myself to him and explaining myself further, in an actual dialogue. I was rebuffed.

    I will try to be better, but a lot of what Mike stated in his original comment was inflammatory and not constructive. You can easily claim that my post was inflammatory and not constructive, but this comment thread is not attached to my post, this comment thread is attached to a post that is not inflammatory and quite constructive.

    Or you could spelling or typo flame, like I am about to do with your spelling of “pseudo.” (I am totally joking here- I really appreciate the fact that we can come down from these heated discussions and talk about stuff and come to an understanding)

  24. #24 Bill Hooker
    October 12, 2006

    Just got an email about this, thought it might be of interest to anyone still reading here:

    With the end goal of promoting accurate and timely media coverage of important scientific developments, the Sound Science Initiative held a special seminar is designed to help scientists interact effectively with the media. The seminar, How Scientists Can Work Effectively with the Media, was based on the book A Scientists Guide to Talking With the Media; the live event took place on September 21, 2006. The seminar included a PowerPoint presentation and audio discussion by the authors, including a question and answer period for participants. We invite you to listen to the event at your convenience and view the PowerPoint presentation.

    (I haven’t read any of it, so no warrant from me regarding its utility or otherwise.)

  25. #25 Pinko Punko
    October 12, 2006

    Thanks, Bill

  26. #26 Michael Kenward
    October 12, 2006

    nobody came over to my post to talk about my post. That leads me to think that people would just rather be mad than engage.

    I did. I simply could not understand your English. (Quick writing hint, try to avoid using the same word in one sentence, apart from the usual “ands, buts and ifs,” of course.) My fault, I know, I am just a thick science writer.

    I came here to engage because I perceive more sanity here.

    Somewhere else you have hinted that the reason for your rant is related to the coverage of the Nobel Prizes. The only mention here is that “the public’s conception of the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology is always driven by press medical sensationalism”. Apart from the fact that I think you mean “public perception,” and “sensationalism by the medical press,” perhaps you could provide us with some web links to support your assertion. You may be right. But I prefer the scientific method. Evidence.

    As I have said elsewhere, judging the media by their coverage of the Nobels is misguided. They are atypical.

    Returning to the original message that sparked this off, apologies for not pursuing it. One thing I have learned from the PEST business is that we would do well to separate education from Public Engagement in Science and Technology. The two are related, but education is such a massive topic that conflating the two just confuses the issues.

    The message also puzzled me in that the headline was about science journalism but the story was about education. This, to me, is the sign of a fine subeditor on a tabloid newspaper. Wrote a headline that grabs the reader, no matter what the story says. It certainly got me hooked. Nice one.

  27. #27 Pinko Punko
    October 12, 2006

    J’s plan is to drive demand through education and outreach, which may cause media outlets to spend the resources needed for a commitment to science journalism, thus the headline is not too misleading. It is based on a hypothesis that science journalism for some reason is perceived as suboptimal.

    In the American mass media, the Nobel business is not so atypical in that the prizes are awarded for discoveries, and science presented in the media tends to be couched in terms of breakthroughs/advances or new discoveries. In that light, Nobel coverage seems to fit in the same template. I feel this is not too far out on a limb to suggest.

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