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September 12, 2005
". . .And to Furbish Falsehoods For a Magazine"
I couldn't resist linking to this article, part of a series in the Guardian. I'm afraid that he's pretty much on target for most science stories in the news:
"Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely - since they'll be the ones interested in reading the stuff - people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it's edited by a whole team of people who don't understand it. You can be sure that at least one person in any given "science communication" chain is just juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they've got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk."
As he points out, there are only a few templates available for science-based stories in the popular press - "Big Breakthrough!", "What You Thought You Knew is Wrong", and "Those Crazy Scientists" are the ones that get used the most. And let's not forget "Scientific Confirmation of (insert pre-existing bias here.)"
But, to be depressingly fair about it, there aren't many more templates for reporting any other subject. Just look at how many stories are whacked with mallets until they fit the Brave Feisty Underdog story line, or some of the others that might as well be run in italics above the stories in the newspaper or in the corner of the TV screen: Babies In Danger, How the Mighty Are Fallen, Lowlifes on Parade, Sanctimony Unmasked. There are more. Those are merely some of the non-ideological ones.
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