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Der Spiegel discovers the truth from science

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Thanks to reader Jeff Brown of Nuremberg for contributing this info from the German language media:

Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine, organized an interview with three university professors last week: Dr. Ernst Peter Fischer, professor for the History of Science at the University of Heidelberg, Dr. Holger Wormer, professor for Journalism at the University of Dortmund (who also studied Chemistry), and Dr. Corinna Lüthje, professor for Communications at the Technical University of Dresden. Though not necessarily intended, the discussion gave a good counter, from scientists, to those people (atheist and otherwise), who have been asserting for years that science, not religion has the truth.

[Look, Jeff, if they meant pop science writers, just say so. Agreed! – ed.]

The three academicians were selected because their concentrations of study and teaching. The subject of the interview was about communicating science to the public through the media. It is a struggle, particularly since science is about research and theory, not about action and personalities. So far, the professors are not highly impressed with how the media have been doing, and that includes not only television, but science blogs as well.

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And the media are altogether too credulous. In one particular instance, Dr. Lüthje tells us, one Austrian science journalist said to her, “Please understand me, I just can’t criticize a professor.”

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One problem, they find, is that scientists are too infrequently questioned about the substance of their claims and research. Because of increased pressure to justify research, Dr. Wormer noted, we now have scientific advertising. And the media are altogether too credulous. In one particular instance, Dr. Lüthje tells us, one Austrian science journalist said to her, “Please understand me, I just can’t criticize a professor.” Dr. Fischer added that there is an unnecessary hierarchy in the scientific field. “We need more journalists who will pose critical questions to Nobel Prize winners,” he said.

Der Spiegel protested all of this discussion with the statement, that what they hear is that “journalists want to earn money, whereas scientists are only seeking the truth.” This brought loud guffaws from all three. “Scientists,” answered Dr. Fischer, “want success; they want a wife, a hotel room, an invitation, or perhaps a car! Let’s leave the truth where it is: with the theologians, or with God himself.”

One cannot help appreciating the unusual candor. It is downright refreshing. Here are people in the scientific world, specializing in communication of science to the public, who are urgently calling for more critical thinking and questioning in their area of endeavor. No one in the interview would say that there is no truth to science. But these people also tell us that truth is not the domain of science, it is the domain of God. The assertion is so unexpected in this kind of interview, that it is almost breathtaking. Well done professors!

“Wissenschaft in den Medien” Spiegel Online , February 15, 2015.

Note 1: Jeff Brown has also provided us with a review of James Davies’Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm than Good.  Worth a read too.

Note 2: Your editor, O’Leary for News, is surprised to hear that journalists are in it for the money. Never heard where they were paid good (except for legacy US TV celebs, whose ratings plummet faster than their salaries rise, and DON’T ask about their truth-o-meter [some of them have seen more action than the Navy Seals – if you will believe them]).

The worse sort of journalist is usually more motivated by a desire to drink with and talk up (or down) Important Folk. Sure, his shoes are full of holes and his liver is shot to blazes—but the Big Bug and the Fat Cat still take his calls. One day he may get to interview Selfie himself. So that hack is as close to heaven as he is going to get.

No, that is not what the field is supposed to be, but too often where it is. Remember this when a local journo-pundit holds forth against design in nature, clearly revealing that he has an agenda but no further information. And has no curiosity and does not sense the need for any.

Note 3:  “one Austrian science journalist said to her, “Please understand me, I just can’t criticize a professor.” Aw, come on! Those science journalists could be all over a professor – like thugs over a drunk pensioner – if he said that the most reasonable explanation of fine tuning in the universe is design rather than a multiverse. Or that Darwinism (or “the neo-Darwinian synthesis” or  the”extended synthesis”) is basically a cultural phenomenon now, not science, so far as evolution is concerned.

But maybe the prof knows enough not to say that. He can be sure of one thing. The journos wouldn’t think of taking the evidence seriously. 

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10 Replies to “Der Spiegel discovers the truth from science

  1. 1
    Bilbo I says:

    Thanks, Denyse, for your inside scoop on journalists. It explains why they never take minority views seriously on any topic.

  2. 2
    Levan says:

    “Never heard where they were paid good…”
    Only if you are disseminating the information from interest groups you will be paid better.
    Most of German journalists, incl. the journalists from Der Spiegel are proponents of some point of view from their employers (not necessary the paper or weekly)and are doing their job.
    “Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news magazine” is no more so popular in last years: the magazine has often published lies and political insinuations against “enemies of the western world” and is nowadays only the shadow of itself.
    I stopped my subscription already some years ago.

  3. 3
    News says:

    In fairness, many journalists are honest, decent people.

    And in any event, every year, dozens are killed in the line of duty. (Which – at least in my view – demonstrates that they were not mere poseurs. Unlike some US. big-hair celebs, they evidently WERE under fire. 😉 They said it was dangerous. And they were right.)

    The problem is (I will get round to a short essay about this some time soon) that the Internet whacked legacy media upside the head, changing historic alignments around the distribution of information.

    Most legacy media have not recovered. They think that just having an online presence makes a difference. It doesn’t. They operate goofy systems to charge for information, which is like trying to charge for seawater in the ocean. They won’t get anywhere until they understand what has changed.

    Far more people probably learn correct information about the ID controversy from Uncommon Descent and Evolution News and Views than would learn it at the New York Times and the Washington Post.

    Yes, we are biased. But if you want to know what is going on, biased is better than clueless and proud. Which pretty much describes MSM today.

  4. 4
    Bilbo I says:

    Denyse, are you saying that if it wasn’t for the internet, journalists would be objective and report minority views on a given topic in a fair manner?

  5. 5
    Jeff Brown says:

    Actually, I think we are missing the point a little on German journalists. Living close to Austria, I would expect that the journalist (perhaps well-paid), held to a common understanding, that professors statements are not to be contradicted. Lütje was getting at credulity in the German setting, not poor journalism.

  6. 6
    News says:

    Bilbo I at 4: No, not exactly. It’s more like this: The more people need you to tell them what is happening, the more they will insist on your sticking to what they need to know. I call that the air traffic controller rule.

    It was different decades ago.

    Today, Brian Williams could claim to have offed Osama Bin Laden, and who cares? – because anyone can find out what really happened anyway. So people choose to listen to such a source or not. The ones who do listen don’t mind being lied to.

    Jeff Brown at 5: Thanks for clarification. Girl has a tough beat, I guess. Why all the credulity? Thoughts?

    Are their profs better than ours? Less exposed?

  7. 7
    rvb8 says:

    It’s not credulity to respect knowledge. Admittedly the qualification and the school from whence the qualification was obtained are important, but as a group I would say that outside the US (which displays an odd anti-intellectualism I’ve never really understood), academics are very well respected.

    Let’s look at other groups in society for comparison: Businessmen or women, profit oriented and therefore untrustworthy; politicians, say no more, they lie for the next election; the clergy of any faith or denomination, they use the respect for faith as a cloak for, at best personal gain, and at worst pedophilia; the police, hopefully less spoiled than they appear; the armed forces, wasting tax money on the next failed weapons system; the media, as pointed out by News, driven by one ideology or another; internet Blogs, the personification of warped information.

    No! Academia comes out quite well. My own university days persuade me that outside my family and friends, I would trust academics ahead of all the above mentioned parts of society.

  8. 8
    Diogenes says:

    “All journalists are biased & unreliable,” says journalist O’Leary.

    I’m tweeting that.

    None of you UDiots have explained why antiscience extremists and science-ignorant cranks are more reliable about science than scientists are. Have not crank shown themselves over the centuries to be less reliable about science than scientists? What were cranks ever right about?

    Creationists denied plate tectonics, solar neutrinos, antimatter, beneficial mutations, exoplanets, the Higgs boson, black holes and dozens of other OBSERVED phenomena AFTER THEY WERE OBSERVED. Why should we trust anti-scientists on any scientific topic?

  9. 9
    Jeff Brown says:

    Hi News! I can perhaps best explain this through the education all my children received in Germany (which was excellent, by the way!). With their classmates they learned to question most everything, and challenge most every one: except experts. These are accepted as credible because they are experts. So scientists who have doctors degrees (nothing against) are reliable because of their expertise. In Austria, this way of thinking is even more the case.

    North Americans are much less this way, in part because their history was one of dissent. A person’s authority was not necessarily grounds for believing him, because they had escaped so many abusive authorities (political and religious).

    The differences between the two are somewhat relative. Experts are indeed at times questioned in Germany, just as they are revered in N. America. But the reverence is much more present here.

    Things like the ID movement are present here, but I am not sure they would be very strong without the encouragement from the western hemisphere.

  10. 10

    Diogenes #8

    “Creationists denied plate tectonics, solar neutrinos, antimatter, beneficial mutations, exoplanets, the Higgs boson, black holes and dozens of other OBSERVED phenomena AFTER THEY WERE OBSERVED.”

    Another person who hasn’t read Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? Or saved a lot of time by reading the Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Structure_of_Scientific_Revolutions. Or wasn’t paying much attention if he did?

    BTW if you’re going to use the epithet “creationist,” please show the courtesy of defining the sense in which you are using it. Thank you.

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