Thursday, 3 April 2008

Science Journalism Vs Consumerism

Science Journalism strives to present primary scientific litterature to the general public in simple and appealing well presented language, this kind of Journalism faces challenges in reaching people in proper context and questions the methods of addressing various ranges of scientific backgrounds.

This topic is complicated because it is increasingly affecting the development of societies and the problem is in such a way that the part that reaches the public is the "newsy" part of science, seller science that is set to take part in forming governmental policies and switching the public mind towards a direction or another for example focusing coverages on climate models or biomedical research or string theory. but there is more to it than this, if you examine the amount of pages dedicated to science in a typical newspaper, you'd be amazed that it doesn't exceed an article or two, how will a journalist in science section convey a complete research in a page to explain controversial issues that science is currently discussing and how will he manage the space and affect opinions? you'd end up saying after a reading something like "so? and? what do you want to say?? or what do you want to tell me?" simply pure sciences don't have to have a social or political reasons to exist, this is a problem in outreach when the addressed audience has not done science at college and it has been noted that a politician for example doesnt have the time to follow up beyond the first five lines a scientist starts explaining a theory, they are only interested in results when its the method is what is important to make a decision and if you examine journals that are dedicated to science, you will find that they are more and more including cover stories that are catchy and appealing and not theory-science centric that journals like National Geographic Magazine for example shifted to in order to compete on the stands to widen the base of readers which doen't suit scientists because it turned commercial.
It is important to realize that scientific truth and the truth in the news media are not the same thing. Scientific truths exist in context. They exist relative to past discoveries, and are constantly subject to review and revision. There are uncertainties associated with most discoveries, but they are accepted as working theories, and as such they can be used as stepping stones to a new level of understanding. so when you read a science paper in order to understand you need to pay attention to details that are carefully put by the journalist who had to cut information for space but aims for you to understand because its no longer ordinary litterature, it has to convey certain technical terms so you form an understanding and afterwards an opinion.
now, some are posing the question of "How Much Science One Should Know "?!?
well, if you want to be able to have a proper judgement on any issue you need to learn quite a bit more on science and dig into it, because not everything you read is right, but you will develop a feel for whats right after you do some reading in science, thats why its no longer valid not to have scientific background no matter what field you are in, because it grew to a level that it became part of making controversial decisions that currently Europeans and Americans are questioning how much should they add to science knowledge under high school studies so they would fill the gap.
Always keep in mind that news agencies and journals owners are selling you information, someone is paying for this information spread. this is fine, but you should know, that there are more important researches and studies that are worth digging into and are not given coverage and this is your part of the balance, take part in learning and thinking and deciding. even the most reputable institutes and journals want to sell at the end of the day, but that shouldnt stand in your way to find knowledge. when in doubt, look for the source.


Devil's Mind said...

This reminds me of the discussion we had at No_Angel's blog about quantum mechanics. While anyone is free to talk about anything they want, including science... It is unwise to just listen to anyone talking about science. Unprofessional people tend to misunderstand and misrepresent. Reading about science in a news paper or wikipedia does not make anyone a scientist, or give them credentials to discuss the matters critically.

It was said that "half knowledge" is worse than no knowledge. While I don't fully agree, but when "half knowledge" gives a false image of actual knowledge, that would be dangerous!!

Tala said...


There is a difference between Journalism and Blogging, Blogging has more opinion to it, and journalism in science is critical because a writer has to draw conclusions from experimental data, regarding No Angel's post on Quantum Mechanics in reference to this post, it serves to point that the number of people who were able to participate in "at least stating an opinion" were the ones who had background in Engineering and IT who were able to carry on with what was written.

how light interacts with matter is subject to revise and there are breakthroughs everyday, the law of noncontradition is currently sunject to be revised as well, Max Planck said: "we have no right to assume that any physical laws exist, or if they have existed up to now, that they will continue to exit in a similar manner in the future"

Devil's Mind said...

You do realize that the law of non-contradiction is a law of logic and thought, not a law of physics, don't you? So technically speaking, Max Plank's statement doesn't apply here.

Either way, Blogging or Journalism are not alternatives to academic studies and critical thinking... And without the latter two no one can be justified to think that they have actual knowledge...

Devil's Mind said...

"it serves to point that the number of people who were able to participate in "at least stating an opinion" were the ones who had background in Engineering and IT who were able to carry on with what was written." - No offense, but an Engineer is not a scientist. Engineers are practically not qualified to discuss any scientific theory! Engineering is the definition of "half" baked knowledge. In fact, it is a sad fact that an engineer would be ignorant to the point of thinking that they can do science!!

Tala said...

if i follow your line of thinking, then no one is qualified to discuss anything, since anything roots down to some sort of theory that we are no specialists to talk about.

i want you to think of this. if p is a state at time t, and we were able to go to time t and ulter the state, suppose there was a physical record of the past, does that make p=np valid and when? at time t+1 p no longer exists, it moves. what makes p to be p at time t? i cant know it by being, i have to have a measurement, can a rock know that i exist? i am an alive device thus my senses. how those senses are telling the absolute truth i dont know. one of the amazing thoughts is that i only see bodies because light refracts from them, and light itself is something. what if there are things that exist and i dont recieve some sort of communication from them in the form of matter or heat or energy? how would i know?

i didnt read books on it, im just thinking..

Devil's Mind said...

I don't quite follow what you are saying in the second paragraph.

As for your first paragraph, the obvious misconception is evident.

You use Pythagoras theorem in geometry, but do you know how to prove it?! Most probably not. Thats a mathematician's job. This means that you are not qualified to criticize the theorem (positively or negatively)... Except of course you study mathematics, or at least the derivation of that specific theory.

Our current systems are based on specialty and trust. Yes, many things are beyond our knowledge and we simply assume that the people who we depend on do their job correctly. That is, an engineer trusts mathematicians that Pythagoras theorem is correct without going through the burden of the proof.

As you can see, in our current system trust is crucial, and the system will probably not function if there was no trust relationships between people of different specialties.

Devil's Mind said...

Also, there is a difference between chit-chat discussion (non-formal arguments) and professional discussion (formal arguments).

For example, in the entry I criticized facebook, since I am not a lawyer, the advise was merely a friendly advise not a professional advise, and hence I advised that a person consults a lawyer, since he would be the one with complete knowledge.

In short, its not wrong to discuss something out of your specialty, as long as you don't create an illusion of complete knowledge!