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Media “Objectivity”

September 24, 2010

Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science  has a great post about science reporting and the problems with supposed objectivity. It’s well argued, and I think the way it’s framed (reporters should not necessarily be “on the side” of scientists, but rather on the side of truth) is perfect. He also makes a point that I think should be hammered into the skulls of reporters (of all types, not just science reporters):

I once talked to a reporter who had done a straightforward report of a fairly dodgy paper and asked him why he had gone down that route, when he clearly knew enough to critique the study in more detail. He said that he couldn’t find a scientist who was willing to comment on the obvious areas of criticism.

This is the point where the quest for “objectivity” crosses the line from a noble discipline to what’s virtually a breach of ethics. Hunting for quotes to tell the story you want to tell is ludicrous. It can lead to people censoring stories they know exist because they can’t get someone else to tell it! At its worst, it leads to people twisting what their interviewees say because they’ve already made up their minds about the angle[...]

This is not about doing it all yourself without seeking outside opinions. The critical thing is that an outside opinion doesn’t need to be an opposing one. If you call up other scientists to comment on a study, and they all think it’s good, then that’s grand. You might find that if you ask actual experts, rather than the attention-seeking ones, you might get at what the actual debates are.

Yeah, what he said.

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