You went and read this satirical skewering of science journalism clichés when I flagged it up, didn’t you? If not, go read it now… and then read this follow-up by Martin Robbins, the chap who wrote it, who makes a good stab at analysing the root causes of bad science journalism (somewhat biased for the UK market, but I expect the issues are similar elsewhere) and attempts to present some solutions.
My point was really about predictability and stagnation. The formula I outlined – using a few randomly picked BBC science articles as a guide – isn’t necessarily an example of bad journalism; but science reporting is predictable enough that you can write a formula for it that everyone recognises, and once the formula has been seen it’s very hard to un-see, like a faint watermark at the edge of your vision.
[It’s like the fnords, man! Just like the fnords!]
… you can see ‘the pattern’. They’re called ‘Scare quotes’ and they are used by writers to distance themselves from the words inside, or to indicate paraphrasing – unless you’re a cynic, in which case scare quotes are a get-out-of-jail-free card that allows journalists to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the words mentioned.
This habit is so deeply ingrained at the BBC that even the question of whether ‘effects’ are ‘interesting’ is deemed too thorny an issue for the headline writer to give an opinion on. God forbid that in calling a piece of research ‘interesting’ the BBC should sully its reputation for robotic impartiality.
Lots more interesting analysis and commentary, well worth a read. Go look.
One thought on “What’s wrong with science journalism (and how, perhaps, to fix it)”
Great link. General scientific illiteracy isn’t helping journalists either. It seems that writers and readers alike are under-informed about basic facts and scientific methodologies in general.
Carl Sagan used to bemoan that you could find an astrology column in your daily paper but nothing science related unless it was a complete surprise. The result of all the foregoing is that we end up expecting very little from science journalism outside the trade publications.
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