Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
I insist that science journalism is different from other types of journalism. In politics, sports or any other area if the personality of a journalist or the popularity of a news agency influences your ability to grasp a thing , it is okay. But in science if the opinions of journalists influence you instead of the facts of the matter presented, it is bad for the field.
I understand the dangers of having more and more journalists become the people who give us not the facts, but viewpoints on the facts. And their biggest mistake while conducting debates and interviews is not asking people of science as well as others who challenge science to give only data and facts based on real science - not pseudo-science - and not their opinions.
With other areas of journalism, news papers/magazines/online news portals can depend on news agencies, press releases, dubious websites and people who make statements like politicians, sports-persons, movie/pop stars. But with regard to science journalism, they should consult the original peer reviewed research papers published in standard science journals that follow the rules and methodologies of science. They can go to the scientists for explanations. They cannot follow the same methods they use for other areas of journalism here if they really care about authenticity and real facts.
In the US, some scientists there complain that the FOX News tells scientists not to talk about climate science because people who run it don't accept that the man made climate change as a real one!(ref 3). Again in the US Wisconsin Agency Bans Talk of Climate Change ( ref6). The restriction prevents 10 staff members at the BCPL from communicating about climate change, including about its potential impacts on 77,000 acres of state timberland. Employees are also required to notify the board's three elected commissioners before answering email inquiries about global warming, and a reference on the board's website to the effects of climbing temperatures on invasive forest species was recently deleted. In Canada weather forecasters are banned from discussing climate change (ref 4). The Canadian Government banned scientists from speaking to the media about their findings without political clearance in 2006, right after Stephen Harper was elected prime minister(7). The current ban is part of a long process of shutting down research programs that are likely "not in keeping with the Conservative government's agenda," IFL Science reports.The program is not limited to climate issues, or even the environment, but critics have argued that Global Warming is the key target. Since the ban there has been an 80% fall in coverage of Global Warming in the Canadian media, according to leaked Environment Canada documents (ref 5).
Now, Trump Administration Restricts News from Federal Scientists at USDA, EPA. The curbs echo what happened in Canada six years ago. Trump’s administration moved quickly this week to shore up its control over communications with the public and the press, as officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture e-mailed staff to inform them that they may no longer discuss agency research or departmental restrictions with anyone outside of the agency—including news media. Both agencies also told their scientists and other staff that press releases and external communications about taxpayer-funded work would stop until further notice. It remains unclear if these will be temporary or long-term policies(11).
And sacking scientists that are doing good work but that which go against the local Government's agendas(10) like it is happening in Australia. More than 300 staff are losing their jobs at CSIRO(. CSIRO has long led the world in modelling Southern Hemisphere climate). Oceans and atmosphere unit is losing 74 positions, with hundreds more positions going from the land and water, agriculture, minerals, food and nutrition, and finance units. The climate science losses are happening mainly in Melbourne, Canberra and Hobart, with positions also going in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. This has been met with dismay from leading institutions and thousands of scientists around the world who expressed it in multiple letters to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.
That is really bad. If the opinions of news media or the Governments that control them on the facts of science try to influence people without giving them the correct information or try to suppress the facts because of their strong affiliations to certain parties, that is really worst form of journalism.
The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter disastrous beliefs that should have been abandoned long back. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse. Perhaps that’s one reason why enthusiastic amateurs think they’re entitled to disagree with climate scientists and immunologists and have their views “respected.” And do you respect ignorance, misconceptions and superstitions in the same way as facts based on evidence and true knowledge? How silly that looks!
There is evidence based on a scientists' years of toil, thorough analysis and testing and there is rubbish based on wild imaginations and perceptions and it’s not part of a reporter’s job to give the latter equal time with serious expertise.
Recently I came across a few things in news papers here too.
Science journalism is different because you cannot use the same process you use for other forms of journalism here. For other contentious issues, journalists have to report all the shades of opinions. But it doesn’t work like this in science. More often than not, there is no “opposition party” or “other side” in science. There can be disagreement between various scientists when sometimes the research is incomplete and inconclusive. This can be reported. But non-experts cannot be given 'opposition status' in science. Someone who objects to scientific facts on non-scientific grounds simply cannot form part of the debate.There is the data and what it means. And there are facts whether anybody agrees with them or not. You got to report only them. Period.
“One cannot really argue with a mathematical theorem.” - Stephen Hawking
But funnily the journalistic instinct makes the editors and journalists search and report the other side too while dealing with science! They report both the opinions of evolutionists and creationists giving them equal importance even though the latter people have nothing to do with science! Likewise they say they are discussing something that can cause harm to the societies we live in like superstitions. But all that they do is ask one scientist to state his opinion on the topic of contention and then ask a pundit that deals with an area of superstitions too to state his opinion. This is balancing things according to journalists. But I think this is trying to balance rational thinking with irrational thinking, knowledge with superstition, facts with misconceptions. Societies cannot progress like this. This is not discussion on facts but on opinions. When the scientists don't give facts and just opinions, I think they too are not properly doing their jobs. You don't have a discussion based on facts here. People are just expressing their opinions instead of facts. The pundits who promote superstitions say as several people ( majority) follow them, they are not and cannot be wrong and that this shows they are dealing with the truth! What a dumb argument? In science one rational approach based on facts will carry more weight than millions of irrational approaches based on just beliefs. They also say that Vaastu is a science! Just because you add the word "shastra" (science, roughly) after anything it doesn't become science. Only when it follows all the scientific methods, procedures or principles it becomes science.
The whole question arose because some newly elected politicians here are following 'vastu' (ref 1 ) and spending thousands of rupees of public money on renovations of public buildings because of superstitious beliefs they have. The media people want to do something about it. Very good intention. But instead of investigating the subject based on facts, and providing the facts, and giving rational analysis, these journalists are just relying on "discussions'' which I think are just expressing opinions ignoring the facts. Easy way out and telling the world, they are doing a good job! Isn't bringing it to the notice of the world good even if it is done in a wrong way?
And I can prove these pundits wrong. One of my uncles who is superstitious too, consulted not one - but three Vastu pundits and modified his house according to vastu rules spending two lakh (200 000) rupees. Before renovating his house he was in a good condition and his business was doing well. He wanted more profits and his greed made him go for vastu. And after renovating his house according to the suggestions of the pundits, his health got spoiled , he was hospitalized four times in two years, his business got effected and he had to sell it away! That is what Vastu based renovation of his house has done to him according to him ( I know vastu has nothing to do with his earlier or changed fortunes now!). At present my uncle is regretting his irrational decision.
You can read another story on how we proved the Vastu pundits wrong by clicking on reference 2 link.
I know a half-truth is more misleading than a full lie. Some scenario can be presented in studies with cherry picked data. Journalists and science writers often select the result that proves their hypothesis and do not present or discuss data that indicates different trends or conclusions. Some authors only choose references which support the desired conclusion while ignoring references pointing towards alternative solutions. I don't want to do that here.
Well the Vastu pundits can argue that several people have benefited from Vastu based renovations and can give examples like I did. But I think the truth can be found when we deal with the problem rationally. The effect here is like a chance. You do one thing. And the results you see can be either positive or negative (effect) irrespective of the cause! I can show 10 negative consequences and the vastu pundits can show 10 positive outcomes. Some might not see any changes at all! Therefore, the effect here is an independent outcome and will happen whether you follow vastu or not. So Vastu has no effect whatsoever on peoples' lives and therefore is a belief or a superstition! Vastu can have a placebo effect too. When people think because they have done Vastu related renovations to their dwellings and they can only benefit them, they go about doing things confidently and succeed in the work they do. Vastu pundits say this is a positive result. Well, without these placebo effects of vastu superstition, if we can strengthen the minds of people to have positive effects during the full lengths of their lives won't that be wonderful? Need we still allow the pundits exploit people in the name of Vastu?
Science can have tremendous impact on the lives of living beings. If science information is given wrongly or misleadingly, it can cause more harm than good. Therefore, it is very important that one gets one's fact right with regard to science reporting. Journalists should take extra time to verify facts. They should not treat science news like they treat other issues.
"Helicopter Journalism" is the word some people are using about the journalists' coverage of science these days because - Journalists don’t have the time and knowledge to get closer and land on clearly defined arenas and understand the scientific facts they are suppose to report on. They just land somewhere - a place suitable for them or fly over the ground they have to cover on the big story from a distance/sky and dash off to report immediately.
Moreover, just putting facts across need not make people take them in the way they should be taken (9). Science communication researchers say that most people will interpret these facts not with their heads, but with their guts – their emotions, prior opinions and biases. Human perceptions and expectations are huge determinants in basic research as well as its understanding, we tend to see what we expect. I can confirm this by giving an example. After Nobel laureate and scientist Mr. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan explained in an interview (8) why Homeopathy is bogus and harmful (of course he confirmed this only like a scientist does - assuming that people will understand his way of explaining things), the online paper that published it conducted a poll. Only 26% of people who read the interview said they agreed with Mr. Ramakrishnan. 68% said, they still had faith in Homeopathy and go for it while nearly 6% said they still couldn't say whether Homeopathy was bogus or not! So this poll shows only one-fourth people can really do unbiased reasoning and accept a fact based on evidence. Rest of the people will go with emotions and biases!
It is also interesting to note that the way the media covers scientific issues deemed to be controversial can compound opportunities for people to engage in Motivated_reasoning . Scholars studying climate change communications have long documented that exposing people to a climate scientist and a climate denier side-by-side reduces their confidence in the scientific consensus that climate change is real and caused by humans. But this phenomenon may extend beyond climate change to our opinions of expertise on many issues. One study by psychologist Derek Koehler suggests that hearing conflicting reports from experts, even when experts are overall in agreement, can cause people to become less confident in the expert consensus.
People think just because some people got positive results (by chance -which factor is largely ignored by people), they too will get them and go for them without indulging in critical thinking like my uncle did and get cheated. So what is a journalist to do when trying to uncover the “truth'' because a simple list of facts often doesn’t bring this “truth” across to readers who reason with their guts. A good journalist need to help the readers understand the facts in the context in which they should be understood, in the way they should be interpreted, in the way they should be analysed, in the way they should be connected to the real life situations. The researchers also say that various characteristics of the information source – from credibility, to gender, to political affiliation, to occupation, to familiarity – affect how the reader receives, processes and interprets the information. In an age of multiplicative digital news platforms, where we go to find things probably has something to do with whether we want to hear “just the facts/ truths" or just entertaining stories to fill our time. There is a vast difference between science and entertainment. If the journalists want to fill their pages or spaces with only sensational stories, then the credibility of the media gets effected. I think science cannot get its due respect when dealt by such media houses. If a journalist cannot do justice to his science journalism, it is better for such person to keep away from science. Because he would be doing more harm than good to public perception of science when he deals with the subject. No wonder the societies we live in remain the same way even after decades of work by journalists. Isn't it time the science writers changed their approach to get different results and desired changes?
Irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors - Thomas Huxley
When You support somebody, especially the governments and don't try to be very critical about their work, you will sometimes have very easy access to the people you want. Or if you are from a very well known media outlet that supports the Government and its policies, again you will have an easy access.
And the opposite way of working, i.e., if you are neutral or question things you will be kept at a distance.
Several people complain about these things. It is politics and economy and survival, most of the time that dictate these policies.
I have written on this. You can read it here: http://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/why-is-science-j...
crafting great science journalism is a formidable challenge. Science journalists must be schooled deeply in complex scientific and technological practices, theories, and information. They must have superb skills in writing, video, and other media in order to convey the facts, import, and implications of new discoveries and data. They must be ace reporters, bringing critical thinking and hard questions to their investigations. They must have command of language that is both nuanced enough to communicate intricate ideas, and compelling enough to engage a broad public audience.
Calling homeopathy and astrology useless and harmful practices, Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan came down heavily on the two, saying real science is far more interesting than “bogus” fields.
Pointing out that India is the only country where a constitution asks for promoting scientific temper, the chemistry scientist said India needs a more rational outlook on such practices.
Explaining that astrology evolved from the human tendency to look for “patterns, generalise and believe”, Ramakrishnan said, “There is no scientific basis for how movement of planets and stars can influence our fate. There is no reason for time of birth to influence events years later. The predictions made are either obvious or shown to be random.”
“Once beliefs take root, they are hard to eradicate,” he commented, adding, “A culture based on superstitions will do worse than one based on scientific knowledge and rational thoughts.”
Contrary to the general notion that homeopathy originated in India, the scientist also clarified that it was a practice started by a German.
“They (homoeopaths) take arsenic compounds and dilute it to such an extent that just a molecule is left. It will not make any effect on you. Your tap water has more arsenic. No one in chemistry believes in homoeopathy. It works because of placebo effect.”
Ramakrishna was however appreciative of modern day astrology considering the more specific scientific advancements made.
“Alchemy is based on beliefs but accumulated huge amount of data about properties of substances and led to modern chemistry. Astrology was struck in past but modern astronomy has made huge exciting discoveries like the black hole, pulsars etc.”
The onus ultimately lies on humans, for science to be accurate. “Scientists are humans. We have egos, superstitions etc. What is required is to test our ideas by experiments which protect us from false beliefs.”
To elaborate, he cited the cold fusion theory. Initially claimed by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, the much-hyped theory was later proved to be unfounded. “In 2011, it was claimed from CERN experiments that neutrinos travel faster than light. Later, it came out that it was a measurement error,” Ramakrishnan said and added that sometimes scientists propose ideas well outside their area of expertise and make mistakes.
So did planes really exist in ancient India, as claimed at the Indian Science Congress in Mumbai last year?
“It was surprising for me that Indian science academies did not condemn it. Science has to be based on data. You have to show that you did it and others should be able to verify it. It is impossible that India had plane technology 2000 years ago.”
Science in India has nevertheless become more exact over time. “In the last century alone, life expectancy has doubled. It is because medicine has become scientific and evidence based. There is better understanding of physiology and biochemistry and many diseases have been eradicated.”
Ramakrishnan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2009, was speaking at the Panjab University at Chandigarh to deliver the Har Gobind Khorana lecture on ‘On Nobody’s Word: Evidence and Modern Science’.
From Google Plus:
Good point! Indeed, Science journalism should be subjected to the highest standard of moral, ethic and professionalism. Good of you to remind us of it.
GREAT concept need to be conversant by all new generation even those who are not belonging to science discipline..!!
Dr. Jonas Moses
Krishna, for some years I produced a television series, in which the programming was Medicine-, Science- and Technology-themed. None of the shows were rehearsed in advance, there was no script, all programs were broadcast live (and in real-time), there was no censorship of information, and all of the guests were acknowledged knowledge-base and thought leaders in their fields of expertise.
Before each segment, I prepared each interviewee, thus:
"please feel free to be as esoteric and/or technical as is required to properly share your facts. It will be my job, as the interface between the you and the viewers, to assure that jargon and obfuscation do not muddy the information. Also, please avoid making IMHO statements. My viewers must be treated, wherever possible, to facts... and not opinions, truths or surmise. When you state something as a scientific or medical "fact," I will likely ask for (and you must be prepared to respond with) citations of wherein peer-reviewed, professional journal articles these facts were published. Otherwise, you will need to advise the viewers that "this is a theory," "hypothesis," "an anecdote," "a belief" or "conventional wisdom.""
In this way, we were delivering "just-the-facts" journalism, with the goal of allowing (and empowering) the viewership to draw its own conclusions about the facts presented.
In large measure, due to everything I have described, above, the series was exceptionally well-received, and popular. And, although I had originally envisioned that these programs would target the professional medical, scientific and technical communities, I learned (from the television network's market analysts) that a broad swath of lay public was also viewing these programs and proffering very positive reviews. These facts lead me to conclude that even among 'lay public,' Media consumers do welcome facts over opinion and "truths." We can be encouraged by this reality; moreover, we would do well to receive this news as a "call to arms" -- to produce and present more fact-based journalism, regardless of the medium.
Dr. Jonas Moses