Saturday, January 28, 2012

Whoa Knelly - NPR's new headman

Vanity Fair dishes on NPR's new head honcho, Gary Knell and his challenge to counteract years of "impotent, ineffectual, absentee, and alien management." the balance hangs NPR’s future and perhaps even its soul—as either a nonpartisan defender of in-depth journalism or a target of the partisan sniping of the sound-bite era. David Margolick explores how NPR’s management managed to squander the advantages of the national dole, deep-pocketed donors, a roster of top-notch reporters, and the loyalty of legions of devoted Click and Clack fans—and whether it can recover from the annus horribilis of 2011.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

'Death to Bloggers' decrees Tehran

One dismal news item noted by the Washington Examiner's
Joel Gehrke  does not bode well for so-called citizen journalists who want to get the truth out:
Iranian courts have sentenced two bloggers to death for "spreading corruption," and government security forces have arrested four other journalists, in the lead-up to the nation's March elections.
"In the past two weeks, security forces have reportedly arrested four journalists," the U.S. State Department said in a statement, "including Shahram Manouchehri, Sahamedin Bourghani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, and Marzieh Rasouli, and Iranian courts confirmed death sentences for bloggers Saeed Malekpour and Vahid Asghari, both of whom were not accorded due process and now face imminent execution on charges of 'spreading corruption.'"
The State Department faulted Iran for trying "to extinguish all forms of free expression and limit its citizens’ access to information in the lead-up to March parliamentary elections."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

9 Ways Journalists Show They Don't Get Science

Over on Guardian blogs, there's hot discussion about perceptions of hacks and lab geeks, who often seem to work at cross purposes. It was sparked by a post authored by the online editor of Nature, Ananyo Bhattacharya.   The comment below turned the discussion around and drew widesread approval from academics.  Definitely there are some salient points.  Hat tip to "jferdy5" for his/her insights on science reporters' shortcomings, listed below:
  • 1. False equivocation: one of the reasons why there's doubt about global warming is because journalists take a handful of crackpots, many of which have never studied science, and then "equivocates," or gives roughly equal weight, to this argument versus broad scientific concensus.
  • 2. Anecdotes do not equal systematic evidence (they're inferior): "while vaccinations may work for millions of people, that will not help little Billy who now has autism." Sounds familiar?
  •  3. Manufacturing dissent: taking a fringe opinion (anti-Global warming, anti-vaccination, anti-evolution, etc) and giving it a disproportional amount of space. 
  •  4. Expert opinion: articles should clearly define why Dr. X is considered an expert. Frequently, I find they're either an economist, statistician, or other person who hasn't published in a particular area and seems to be motivated by political views rather than dispassionate scientific debate.
  •  5. Data journalism: this is a particularly insipid form of pseudo-science: journalists should not simply tabulate national rates based on their own analyses because they do not do the correct statistical tests (Fisher exact tests, etc) to check if a result is scientifically valid or not. It's bad to do this because the result may look scientifically valid when it is not.
  •  6. The use of "narrative:" linking together anecdotes using emotive language manipulates and misleads readers. In law it's called "leading the witness," in science, "systematic bias." In journalism, why is it considered "good writing?"
  •  7. No clear authors of articles: it's hard to examine the validity of science "reporting" if we do not know who is doing it. Simply putting "Guardian" or "New York Times" does not help. Scientists are required to disclose their names and sources of funding, journalists should do the same. 
  •  8. No citations: most Guardian articles, and in many papers, will discuss a study in inflammatory terms and not provide a link to the article, when they're available on pubmed. As well, no one cares what an untrained journalists' interpretation is. Just put the results and let us make up our mind. And no, sassy science headlines don't draw in readers, they just make your paper look stupid.
  •  9. Sending a reporter to a country does not trump public health statistics: if the WHO reports that malnutrition in Malawi or India is declining, it does not matter how many people your "Development" reporters interview, you cannot recalculate / dispute a national malnutrition / AIDS / TB rate based on a few subjective, systematically biased, personal interviews.
  •  The Guardian does all of these. Perhaps we can have a discussion about it, and why journalism is responsible for driving pseudo-science and the decline of Western civilization?

Oops - should have coordinated with the ad dept

Sometimes the advertising department and editorial need to open the lines of communication.