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Ripped from J2 blog again.

Posted by JSYL on Saturday, November 18, 2006 in
I thought it'd be important to blog about because it taught me a valuable lesson in just how accurate we journalists are expected to be.

When there's spare time I usually stay behind after work to help out with stories, usually short little human interest pieces, but good experience nonetheless. During that week I'd written about one science story a day, and had gotten so used to it that I'd begun following a similar formula with each one- shocking scientific discovery in the lead, research process leading to discovery, scientist's quote on the significance or implications of the finding, and plans for future studies in the area.

A conference was being held in Hobart for all scientists in Antarctica to discuss their findings for the year and talk about new ways of working with each other for the next year. AAP had run a story about a UCLA professor who'd supposedly said that within 100 years there would be trees shrubs and even patches of grass growing on Antarctica due to global warming etc. I looked up similar articles on ABConline etc, but there was no specific quote from the professor as authority for the claim. I called the media liasion officer for the conference and waited a couple of hours for the guy to call me back. In the mean time I put together all the things I already knew about the guy's research, the conference and took quotes from the other articles.

When I was about to give up hope of an interview, he called me back and my first question was, "What are the implications of your theory that there'll be life on Antarctica within the next 100 years on scientific research plans for the future?" To which he responded, AND I QUOTE: "Well, first of all, I never said that."

.....It was all I could do not to splutter as I said, "What?" bewildered. It turned out all those journalists had misquoted him and misinterpreted the talk he'd given. As he launched into lengthy discussion of what he'd actually said, I realised the truth wasn't very newsworthy after all, scattered as it was with scientific jargon and well-established, carefully/diplomatically worded and non-dramatic facts about Antarctica. After waiting for hours, I had no story and had no choice but to go home disappointed and a little disenchanted with the quality of Australian media.

He even asked me how anyone could be expected to believe that the huge mass of ice that's taken so long to accumulate could melt in such a short amount of time, let alone sprout vegetation? And as I was talking to him about how ridiculous it now seemed in hindsight, conceptually I realised the power journalists, and in particular, authoritative sources like the AAP and ABC, have over us laypeople. Without intending to, we automatically assume that what we read must be true, because surely they've done their research and gone through all the neccessary channels....what might have happened is that one article had gotten it wrong, which had let to a chain-reaction of inaccurate articles...

Lesson learned: Don't trust anyone who gives you a story to have all the facts straight- even your fellow journalists.

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2 Comments


Its interesting you talk about this because what you said is really true. I'm not putting down journalists or whatever but even for magazines such as "New Scientist" they tend to report on dramatic news in science which really isn't that dramatic at all...its really just to keep readers entertained. Most stuff in science which make it onto the news are really more heretical ideas which tend to get a wow response. Scientists are just humans, they bicker over each others proposals and ideas and sometimes even resort to personal attacks over each other..the time it takes for issues in science to actually become fact is really a long and painful process .
Theres been a lot of news lately on global warming etc because really this is a controversial topic and it scares people. It makes it sound like the whole scientific world is convinced global warming is real and is happening and if we dont do anything about it we're doomed but this is not really the case. A large part of the scientific community agrees that this is happening but theres also a few scientists who have criticised the way those convinced about global warming have come to their conclusion and shown that there are flaws in their arguement.
And they have been met with personal attacks.

The thing is global warming isn't all negative, it actually brings some good, it will increase the amount of percipitation and might bring it to much needed areas of the world. The worse thing is when politicians try to convince the public about these issues such as "An Inconvenint Truth" etc, and urge countries such as Australia and the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol is like I personally think, an incomplete solution to a problem that hasn't even been clearly defined. Its been slammed by the Russian Academy of Sciences and well theres not many institutions of science that are more credible than that, you know ...how they say russians are born with vodka in one hand and a gun in the other, when they put their mind into stuff they're pretty damn serouis about it. Anyways I think I wrote too much I better get back to studying.


so what was the real finding by that scientist of yours, jane?

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