Science journalism is still the way that most people learn about science. Unfortunately, it often seems like learning about the pros and cons of a car from the dealer.
Writer Peter Aldhous, interviewed by Liza Gross at a science writers’ site, captures and critiques the conventional attitudes of the trade well:
I think for most science journalists, their model of journalism is explanatory. It’s taking the arcane world of the high priests and priestesses of science and translating what they do into language the ordinary mortal can understand. And I think that’s incredibly valuable and very important if we’re to have an informed society. But it is a different mindset from thinking that part of your job is to keep an eye on these guys and check that science isn’t being used and abused, that there isn’t corruption or fraud. And once you get into that mindset, you’re going to approach things differently. I’d argue that science journalists who have that mindset and wed it to what their training would allow them to do, in terms of data analysis and even studies done as part of the story, it can be very powerful.
Translated from Tradespeak, he is saying, roughly: Lose the pompoms. ASK tougher questions.
Science blogger Chad Orzel cautions, however:
I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about this– after all, the vast problems wracking journalism these days are all about finding a paying audience, and it’s hard to monetize solid but unglamorous science (at least not until it actually turns up in useful devices). But from the perspective of someone who isn’t at either of those extremes, it’s hard to see a journalistic shift from mostly explaining to mostly investigating as all that big a win. Moving from “String theorists say we’re living inside the holographic sticker on God’s MasterCard!” to “Pharmaceutical researchers are a bunch of sleazy crooks!” doesn’t do any more to pick up the kind of science I was trained in and most of my close colleagues work in.
Well, there I disagree. “Pharmaceutical researchers are a bunch of sleazy crooks!” is a statement that can be supported by evidence—or not. It forces science to be about fact.
And why is it even a science journalist’s job anyway to try to explain God’s MasterCard or some other Bizarro World? Shouldn’t the state of such “research” be investigated as a scandal possibly?
Gallup reports that only 23% of today’s readers/viewers now trust the mainstream media. So like that first guy said, lose the pompoms. There’s a real world out there that people might want and need to hear about. – O’Leary for News
See also: Science Fictions
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