I would agree with the the articles concern for the state of journalism for a number of reasons. I have shied away from most of the mainstream reporting as a result of the lack of facts and misrepresentation of reality (not on purpose of course-smiling here). I would also suggest that the "softer attributes" be used to drive the discovery of the hard data using testing and analysis tools available.
You know Rich, it is a potent approach that you have specified here. Treating each article or each piece of journalism (i.e., sometimes, the journalist or the journal itself!) as an individual data point, is in fact a very practical and widely practiced approach.
One may not straight away notice how frequently we engineers have adopted this same approach in our daily dealings. These days, we do analyze the user ratings/comments about a product before we go buy any consumer product. In fact, we perform this analysis most of the time prior to taking any sort buying decision and has become the norm rather than the exception. For me personally, this practice has become a good-old piece of due diligence prior to any buying decision nowadays.
How many of you research the message boards and focus groups when you plan to buy a piece of consumer electronics good? Or even a an industrial item for that matter? Do we not compare the different brands and different models on their functionality based on user-comments and user-ratings on these focus groups?
Almost everything that gets published, whether journalistic or not, has a purpose. Even these stories and these comments.
Journalism used to mean hard factual un-biased news. Investigative journalism was also prized for its ability to change situations of all kinds, hopefully for the better.
Today journalism more often than not means just a job at some media outlet, when anecdata, opinion, factoids, sound bytes, celebrity musings, and other types of information fuse into info-tainment where facts are less important than the supposed relevance of today's in vogue subject to the audience.
And don't you just know it ! Facts have the disgusting habit of getting in the way of opinions, or removing the veil over truth and hidden agendas, and are many times just downright embarrassing to deal with.
Much easier and less work NOT to dig up too many facts when "journalists" can instead rock back in their chair and write an opinion or anecdotal fluff piece.
The sad part is that the chief editors allow this to go on. Oh, I forgot... perhaps the editors have the same problem. Do you think?
KD, I like the way you think ... and write! In the last 20 years, I've seen MARKETING grow to scary proportions and put a dollar-value on everything (not a square inch is missed as an opportunity to be "in your face"). Even movie theaters run commercials after I pay $10 for a seat (and they wonder why people are staying home in droves!). This, along with the dumbing-down of the public (which serves the greed of marketing), has made real, factual information ever more difficult to find. The world seems to be awash in "anecdata" and "infomercials". What ever happened to our truth-in-advertising laws anyway? And why aren't more people complaining?
I agree with Rich. What I have difficulty with is putting too much credence in user ratings/comments. I find that I have to take user ratings/comments with a grain of salt (maybe much more salt). I think that user ratings/comments have the same issues the article talks about regarding journalism today. You are still left with the challenge of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
In my opinion such journalism is also encouraged by a breed of researchers who are eager to get some quick publicity on some hasty conclusions based upon some statistics they collect. One research group finds that drinking TEA is good for health and another finds that drinking TEA is damaging to the health. Both findings are supported by the statistics collected using sample groups. Many of these research work does not go beyond the academics. Don't you think that most of the movie reviews by the film journalists are all biased to bring you to the theater to watch those many times stupid and boring movies? Finally as an engineer we have to apply our own QA to these news/reports to separate facts from the fiction. Editors want to print something exciting, journalists want to earn their bread, we engineers have to go by hard facts though the wild imagination of some of these reports can click some news ideas into the minds of some innovators
News journalism is a pretty difficult business these days. The "24-hour news cycle" has created a massive hole that needs to be filled with new information every day. And the various competing technologies for providing that information continue to evolve and change the competitive landscape. Add in the changing demands of the audience and you've got one very complicated operating environment.
I think everyone is just trying to find their way through a dense forest of information and competing media. The old models have been thrown out the door, and the new models have yet to be designed.
It reminds me of walking through a maze, where there are various different paths to take, but you don't know which one will get you to the destination without trying it first. But in this case, the maze is constantly changing and evolving. New paths are being added all the time and old paths are being sealed up.
It's a new world for a lot of people out there...
I saw the same article - but in my local paper. Apparently there was at least one study done at USF that had some data behind it. However, I agree with Bill that there is not much other data behind article, although I too agree with the premise. Isn't sleep the downtime needed to imprint experiences etc. ?
Too many so-called journalists try to make the news or report their opinions as opposed to reporting the "Who, What, When, Where, How" of traditional journalism.
I agree that you can't trust most of what gets published in main stream media these days -- it seems that a "soundbite" is all that's required as the basis for an entire article. I'm not sure what happened to checking your sources, securing multiple sources, and last but not least ... finding out who funded the research to begin with. (Okay, I'm starting to rant, I'll stop now!)
I agree with phoenixdave that it's the changes in media -- the 24-hour news desk, the constant need for online content, and audience demand for immediacy -- that have caused some of (as you aptly called it) this bad habit of journalism.
I can see how this same kind of pressure for quick turnaround and deadlines could apply pressure to an engineer's work as well. But the outcome, as all the comments have suggested, is far less superior!
And how about when the news agencies do as you illustrate and add in a sensationalized and misleading headline? "New graphene enhanced super conducting plug-in zero emission hybrid makes the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs." I can't count the number of times I've seen such a headline, only to find that the article basically just discusses some research project in the manner you describe. It makes me feel cheated. Maybe entertained, though. But usually not informed.
Absolutely agree with kdboyce here. I dont think there is any source of information which can claim no influence from business, politics, religious or self interests. And frankly, how many of us really scrutinize the reports? Anecdotal and light-on-facts reports make for a entertaining and popular read. Maybe, if only facts were made the basis of opinions, the news would cease to be interesting! At least, in some part. And media houses want to more readers. Truth was never the motive.
Bill, I agree with the conclusion of your piece, as a matter of fact,
I admire Nicolaus Copernicus as a great role models of the scientific method, rather than ignore the data that did not fit his early models; he pursued analysis of cosmos observations until he was able to formulate his heliocentric model (and that took almost most of his adult life), with the Sun at the center of the universe. With Mars and Venus doing the funny loop movements that people of his time miss-interpreted as capricious behavior.
In other words, IMHO journalistic ethics should connect the dots with multiple sources and only until there is coherence that the true reporter reports his analysis.
As a consumer of general public news and some polarized views analysis from radical and extreme points of views, I accept as common knowledge only after I have evaluated and rationalized those views or reported facts. Even then there is the possibility that human error may cloud the masses, that is the price we pay as rational humans.
Many examples exist in the past decade that speak to this premise of rush to judgment without proper analysis and review of “intelligence”.
The problem is not journalism or news networks, it's you. Face it. You’re the problem. If it didn't sell they wouldn't do it. If you buy crap, they will sell you crap. Our parent's demanded integrity and they got Walter Cronkite. We demand entertainment and we get Fox News and mysticism as science. Don't believe? Explain why Fox News is the most popular "news" organization and at the same time the most slanted and biased. Our generation has no interest in facts. Facts are hard and painful. As Jack Nicholson said so eloquently in “A Few Good Men”, “You can’t handle the truth” The truth is as a whole our generation hasn't stepped up to the level of the last few generations; the generations that built this country. We are selfish, short sighted, self absorbed and greedy, and it's reflected in the institutions we sponsor. Name three incidents of self sacrifice for the good of others you've personally performed in the last six months(family doesn't count). I rest my case. It's your fault:)
The problem is not "you" as Vince says, rather it's more due to lack of skills for writing technical/scientific news in mainstream dailies/magazines. Most of them are ordinary reporters who also happen to do some science reporting if they can't come up with good political, social, sports news which are treated as the news.
It's a slippery slope. Good journalism helps communicate facts and data, part of that process includes demonstrative examples. In general people integrate data better with good examples. This template then gets abused by a sloppy or manipulative journalist and it takes an observant reader to notice that an article is based on selected examples and there really wasn't any data.
I guess another point that could be made is lack of comprehension. If journalists in main-stream media actually did provide the scientific facts and data to support their articles, how many people would actually understand the words, the concepts, or let alone finish reading it?? Even though many people have access to a dictionary in the palm of their hand these days, how many would actually take the time to understand what the article says, and how many would just assume it's beyond their comprehension and not even read it?
Rich, I do not want to come across as confrontational but, I beg to differ when it comes to true science, only those really attempting to advance the human knowledge, expose themselves to the challenge of peer-review and analysis in the open domain. Only then, human knowledge can really advance and prosper.
There are absolute truths out there, but is the corruption of the human bias that clouds the basic facts.
In the example that you reference, I argue that medical studies that want to show a correlation or a benefit/harm of a specific substance for example. Tend to by reduce sample and time size due to cost constraints, so out of the gate the outcome has limited value as true research. In addition, even if the study attempted to do a life time impact study, there are so many variables that control and affect test subjects, which is hard to determine the impact and isolate the one variable of interest. Although not impossible, true medical studies define the outcomes as not absolute truths but probabilities.
In regard to the cosmology comment, I hope you realize that you used a term that implies a philosophical view of the nature of reality. A very subjective analysis since it brings along the individual’s cultural luggage.
With present knowledge of science, we now know that time is a forth dimension that is elastic and not absolute. So different time observations need to bring into consideration the fact that both observers do not see the same object! but a different life stage.
I would rather use the term: astronomy, which implies the strict study of the external world outside earth’s atmosphere (for the most part, quantitative). For example, did you know that Saturn is mostly Hydrogen and Helium, and its red spot has been observed since the 17th century?
Yes, there is a point in phoenixdave’s comment. If the journalists overloaded the scientific facts in publications, many of us would not bother to read those....or at least, would not take the trouble to understand what we read. True.
However, from another point of view, that is one part of the job responsibility of a journalist, i.e., to brew in the facts, the figures and may be the scientific results, and present them in a more digestible manner to the general masses. Therefore, if they do not take trouble to base their opinions on correct facts, it is professional negligence. If they don’t present the facts in a simpler and attractive language, again, they are not doing their job properly. Their is a fine-line where the reports are based on facts and are still attractive and readable. The journalists are there to perform this balancing act.
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