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Science stories: Could you put a cigarette paper between credibility and plausibility?

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Here’s how science journalists think, in case you ever wonder why you read what you do:

As an ex-scientist and current science journalist, I am confronted with questions over credibility on a daily basis, be it my own or that of others. This aspect was touched upon only lightly – how the media’s predilection for a good narrative arc in stories compares to that of fiction writers – but given the impassioned views and breadth of the topic, that debate could have raged for hours. After much discussion, though, the panel decided that plausibility – be it of fictional characters, imagined research ideas, or even real-life stories of scientists – is the overarching measure for credibility. This was most succinctly summarised in an interjection from the audience, when esteemed science historian Simon Schaffer piped up with, “I couldn’t put a cigarette paper between plausibility and credibility”.

Which is just the problem. The editor thinks that what opinion leaders believe is plausible. Maybe the reporter knows it’s a load of bunk, but that doesn’t actually matter.

They congratulate themselves on their cleverness, he drinks, and you read and doubt.

By the way, someone at the Philly Inquirer thinks you are spanking her if you doubt. Just leave us out of it, okay?

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