Key Advice Blog

Science reporting: plain language with substance

Posted on: 31/05/2009

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.

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