Key Advice Blog

Archive for May 2009

According to The Guardian’s Bad Science column ‘Quacks, hacks and pressing problems with press releases’ by  Ben Goldacre, there is a basic problem between academia news release and the media. Basically it involves clarity of reporting – for both parties.

Goldacre points out short comings on both sides. Science and academic news releases often  fail to outline research key points – like how many people were in the control group. And, reporters and editors don’t always ask enough questions to ensure that what they are publishing is factual, accurate and – most important –  interpreted.

Fact: thing known to be true, exist, have happened.

Accurate: free from error.

Interpret: explain the meaning.

(Source: Oxford)

Many times research claims – like ‘red wine is good for your health’ – are reported in a factual (research took place) and accurate (findings support this claim)way, but without relevant interpretation. If this study had been done on 100 women aged 24 – 44, and you are a male aged 50, you might see this data in a completely different way.

We are bombarded with news from all media using research as a basis. Only this morning, BBC News 24 interviewed a couple who’d done research on pinpointing people’s personalities based on how they hold a (wine) glass.

The concepts are often plain, simple enough to comprehend. But, we deserve to be informed to a level that allows for intelligent assessment of these facts as they pertain to us.

Should I quit grasping my wine glass on the bowl instead of the stem? The report confused me, because on this aspect, the theme of personality analysis was abandoned in favor of logic. They reported that if it’s redit is ok to hold by the bowl (keeps it warm), and if it’s white, hold by the stem (keeps it cool).

We need to quit blowing hot and cold on scientific and technical reporting and provide clarity and completeness.

If you’re a football fan, you will know last night’s Champion’s League goals by Barcelona won them a nice title – and other accolades. What you may not know is that Canada is putting its best foot forward to get into the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Canada has only qualified once – in 1986. We have a long way to go to get on the scoreboard.

As a Canadian living in the UK I get asked (or told) about Canada’s absence on the global pitch often. I can reply – in the same vein using ice hockey as an example – but that doesn’t really get down to the heart of the matter. 

But, one man has. CBC Sports soccer commentator Jason de Vos, a national team captain, has been blogging about Canada’s goals when it comes to World Cup qualifying soccer.

According to de Vos, the real issue is ‘getting rid of excuses’.  He has set out some clear goals. Mapped out a path to follow. It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts.

Now a lot more could be said about that philosophy, but I need to get back to work on my own goals!

The world-renowned, non-conformist Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, who died yesterday, took on the banks over 35 years ago for financial practices without social, cultural or ecological standards. We could use another Arthur Erickson today.

His projects ranged from international embassies to homes for the homeless. He himself nearly lost everything at one point in his career.  The report in the Vancouver Sun reported he found building a complex for the homeless more ‘interesting’ than building condominiums for the wealthy.

In a memorable presentation in 1972, he said our global tourism habbit was the biggest threat to human culture, pointing out the highrise tourist hotels, surrounded by low-rise local housing.

The article on has this Arthur Erickson quote: “You, as bankers, cannot afford to be concerned with only the economic aspects of projects that you finance,” he declared. “There may be serious implications on the natural environment, on the urban environment, on human culture, which at some future time may even be considered crimes against mankind.”

Fast forward 37 years, I think it’s time for another lecture.

If ever there was a need to come clean linguistically, the UK parliament’s MPs’ expenses and allowances fiasco is begging for it.

It is not enough that terms like ‘invidious’, ‘flipping’ and ‘deselect’ may be clouding the issue. The Guardian’s political editor Parick Wintour’s report on the resignation of Michael Martin, speaker of the House of Commons, included the claim “Allies of Martin such as the Labour MP Jim Sheridan and Lord Foulkes blamed an anti-Catholic conspiracy…”

What conclusions are we to draw?

From the Times’ link to  The Green Book (the guide to MPs’ expenses) comes these nuggets:

The principles are: Claims should be above reproach and must reflect actual usage of the resources being claimed.”

Seems clear to me.

Followed by: “Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties.”

Perhaps their claims should fall under the same scrutiny as business expenses do. 

Using plain language principles and some basic, transparent business practices this should all be cleared up by summer!

And we can believe in these changes with same vigour we believe in the forecasts for above normal temperatures this summer.

Watch for ‘revised forecasts’. The weather one is due May 28th at 11 am on



The CBC’s Entertainment section online referred to Eurovision as ‘Pop music’s most bizarre specatacle’.

‘Eurovision diplomacy: Israeli Arab-Jew duo hope to show that peace is possible – at least on a stage’ was The Christian Science Monitor’s top pick.

Armenia Now headline read: “Best performance, worst place…” in relation to taking 10th place – and lack of support seen in earlier years from

Associated Press International reported on Gay Pride marchers being detained in Moscow. They had invited Eurovision attendees to join in the parade.

Ice News, International Nordic News, was flying their flag with “Norway wins Eurovision, Iceland second”

You could agree with all of them.  We need the United Nations, and perhaps more multi-national events like Eurovision.

Finally, after nearly 10 days, and no doubt millions of words, about MPs’ misuse of public funds when claiming expenses, the questions of justice has arisen.
When the issue first came to light in The Telegraph, a mention was given about the ‘source’ of this information being investigated by the police (not the MPs however.)
In a recent article a legal expert explained this person could be charged under several acts including the Official Secrets and Data Protection. However, there doesn’t seem to be a law broken by the MPs in question.
Will it get down to a question of is ‘feeling like you’ve been robbed’ worthy of a charge of ‘theft’ against the perpetrators?
Now another newspaper, The Mail, no doubt soon to be joined by sister publications, has launched a fund to finance private prosecutions against politicians.

May justice be strong and swift – and served in the right direction.

Nottinghamshire County Council has a team of plain language voluteers ready to check any documents going out to the public.
Now that’s a step in the right direction.
Thanks Cheryl Stephens.


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