Journosplaining 101 (a commentary on Ed Yong’s A Guide for Scientists on Giving Comments to Journalists)
Read this as part Q in the never-ending series of scientists v journalists. I’m a scientist, so I see where Chad’s coming from.
But a comment on Ed’s article first.
There’s a reason you should take some of the advice in Ed Yong’s post with a grain of salt (as I’ve come to realize over several years of hearing or reading advice from Ed): because it comes from Ed Yong. Now, let me explain — this isn’t a dig at Ed. Quite the opposite. He’s an excellent science journalist, and the tips he gives other science journalists about journalism is quite good. But this is a different subject, and given that there are a lot of journalists out there, you probably aren’t going to be asked for commentary from Ed Yong. (To use some physics-y math, if there are N journalists and N >>1, approximately no journalists are Ed Yong)
So when I see advice like
I have read the paper that I sent you and understand it
I am not just trying to fill my story with a random cutaway quote to make it look like I did my job and asked around.
[W]hat you say will almost certainly end up getting cut and distilled. BUT, I won’t do that in a way that misquotes or misrepresents you.
that only applies to Ed, or some other similarly-talented journalist. You could find yourself in a situation where you follow the advice but with a lesser talent, and be disappointed in the result.
Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave with a box of scraps!
Well, I’m sorry. I’m not Tony Stark.
Which means that Chad’s advice to close the information loop by giving a summary is good. It confirms that everyone is on the same page. You may say you understand the paper, but anyone who has taught knows students who swear they understand, and then bomb the test.
Ultimately, though, what rubs me the wrong way about this is a sense that the ways scientists talk to journalists are wasting the journalists’ time, which they would otherwise be using to do Important Journalism. Which bugs me because, ultimately, each party in one of these conversations is doing the other a favor by having the conversation at all. Yes, journalists are helping to boost the profile of scientists and science in general, but they’re also taking up time that the scientists could be using to do Important Science.
The thing of which I always remind myself in these situations is that Ed is presenting a perspective of a science journalist, and that’s a bias or perspective that needs to be accounted for when absorbing the information. I think that’s what is surfacing here.
Also there’s a bit about “This research is interesting but more work needs to be done” being the most banal quote one can give. That may be true, but we also suffer from way too many stories drawing conclusions from a single experiment that end up being contradicted by further investigation, or end up being anomalies. Again, a good chance that a top science journalist won’t make that error, but it’s worth pointing out that some study isn’t a final result, just to be on the safe side.