Monday, October 10, 2005

The Politics of Science Journalism

I attended a panel discussion this week on the Politics of Science Journalism hosted by the L.A. Press Club. Three science journalists, one from the L.A. Times, one from Reason magazine, and one from Skeptic (whatever that is…) talked.

A lot was said, but what ultimately stuck in my mind was:

1. When reading a science article, if you know anything about the issue at hand, you’ll almost always find that any connection between the facts and what is being reported is purely coincidental. Yes, from my experience this is unfortunately very true. Which is particularly disconcerting because it makes you wonder about the connection between political reporting and the truth. I hope it’s not quite as bad. But this also explains why I often find pop science articles so disconcertingly obtuse. It’s because if they discuss a subject that I’m not familiar with, and they’re saying nonsense, there’s no way for me to make sense of them.
2. That science journalists are usually not scientists, as evidenced by the illustrious panel…
3. That science is often manipulated to serve political purposes, and journalists play along with that. A prime example being, perhaps, the various environmental disasters that we’re so often warned about…

Regarding #1, I’ve had first hand experience from the other side of the fence – when doing PR for technology companies. I’d write a press release that was as clear as I could possibly make it. I’d do a press tour, sit for over an hour with each reporter, explain, elucidate, answer their questions. Then I would read the article they wrote and be stunned at the nonsense that was written. And no, it was not just me, others had the same problem. I can’t fully explain it, but I think the writers got so carried away with their words that they forgot to pay attention to the content…


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