My contribution in the session was apparently good enough to repeat, so of course I’m going to link to it. It’s actually a different take on the jargon discussion — cartoons have a limited word count and restricted ability to convey information, so sometimes you have to limit the audience to whom you are trying to appeal by requiring that they will be familiar with the unexplained context of the cartoon. Exactly the scenario of a cartoon which is based on the physicists’ spherical cow joke — if you aren’t already familiar with the joke, you won’t understand the cartoon. So there’s a delicate balancing between the scientific literacy (or scientific cultural literacy) of the audience and the humor you’re trying to convey.
Archive for the 'Conference stories' Category
I wasn’t at the Science Online session that, in the Nth retelling, sounded like it might have turned into “the Sharks vs the Jets at the dance” square-off. But Matthew Francis was, and gives his perspective: In defense of jargon and expertise
Carl Zimmer—a writer I greatly respect, even if he does write about parasites, a subject that makes me squirm—began the pile-on by saying that when a Ph.D. scientist wants to explain something, they often start with a question, then drop a textbook on you. (Ironically, Carl is one of the few people I know who actually wrote a textbook.) Some other people evidently took that as permission to speak ill of all professional scientists and experts. One person stated strongly that experts are all bad at science communication, because they use too much jargon.
I do have some strong opinions on this. I’ve posted on this before and I think there’s a danger in asserting some of the extreme positions on the topic. There’s also the problem of properly defining the problem so that the scientists and journalists don’t just talk past each other. Plus the issue of the job of scientists as compared to the job of journalists.
What constitutes jargon? Some is obvious — when acronyms and abbreviations appear, you might just be
a redneck using jargon. In my field of atomic physics I will throw around terms like MOT and AOM, or occasionally speak of a BEC. That’s the terminology of the job, and I don’t expect people outside my field to necessarily know what I mean. (in case you are curious, MOT = magneto-optical trap, AOM = Acousto-Optical Modulator and BEC = Bose-Einstein Condensate). I think it’s pretty obvious that not explaining what these terms mean is a barrier to be avoided. I don’t think that’s the problem. If you’re throwing those terms around while attempting to communicate with a lay audience, you’re not winning.
I believe the issue is at a lower level. I think there’s an element of “I know it when I see it” to other terminology, but where to draw the line is a grey area. To use some examples from physics, are momentum or energy jargon? If I speak of the conservation of either, is there a barrier to understanding which is the terminology, or is it a lack of scientific literacy? This is an ongoing debate and I think that the testy exchanges between scientists and journalists will continue of we don’t resolve what we mean. When do basic concepts and their names or descriptions become jargon?
There is also the issue, as I mentioned, of defining what the job is, and I come at this from the perspective of being a scientist. Most scientists are not hired to communicate their work to the public. That’s an acquired skill. If you want to speak to a scientist, you need to learn the language, just as if you want to go to an area that doesn’t communicate in your language, it behooves you to learn that language. That is would be a good idea to train scientists to do a better job of communicating to the public (and I think it is) is a separate issue. But I suspect most scientists would think it a waste of time: We have a Public Information/Affairs Officer for that! coupled with I want to do research. There has to be a general feeling that such effort has value. Scientists have to prioritize their time, so if this is a desired goal, make sure that such communication is valued by the institutions where the scientists work.
If this communication is in the form of a discussion, we get back to the issue of meeting the scientists halfway. When someone with little to no background in a certain subject wants to pop in and be a part of the conversation, it’s a huge waste of time to expect a scientist to fill all of that background in — imagine someone chiming in on a discussion of an atomic physics experiment but has no idea what conservation of angular momentum is, or someone claiming that evolution is wrong because humans don’t have wings. Or this. In situations like that, I feel no hesitation to “drop a textbook” on someone.
To be fair, I don’t know exactly what Carl meant by the phrase, but I also haven’t seen anything that clarifies the issue on his blog. I would love there to be a reasoned discussion on the subject rather than having people reach for their blamethrowers every time this comes up.
More thoughts from Science Online 2013
Another of the themes that ran through multiple sessions was how to deal with disruption in comments: what to do with trolls. My reason for attending these sessions was not truly blog related — I don’t get the level of commentary where it’s much of a problem. It’s my involvement with Science Forums (dot net!) that led me to the sessions. Some of the sub-text of one of the sessions included how to tell a troll from a cynic or someone who is simply disagreeing, while the other did not, and this inconsistency made the discussions somewhat less useful to me. I make a distinction (and mentioned this in one session) that in the forums there’s a distinction we draw: a troll is someone who is deliberately stirring up trouble by saying outrageous, contrarian things, but a crackpot (or crank) is someone who truly believes the outrageous things they say.
The common behavior of saying outrageous things can make the two indistinguishable at the outset; one possible distinction is the troll’s predilection to appeal to emotion, because an emotional response is what they are after. Lacking that, though, it’s only after some interaction that the differences can be seen: the troll comes up with some new claim to stir the pot, while the crackpot tends to stay on message. The crank, however, (I make a distinction) tends to react emotionally to being corrected and will whine about being personally attacked, but both the crank and crackpot are thoroughly convinced they are right. As an example, someone who shows up on a climate blog and claims that there has been no global warming for the last 15 years may be saying that because they know it will stir everyone up, or because they mistakenly believe it’s actually true (even if they aren’t George Will). After a rebuttal, the troll jumps to the next crap argument, but the true believer continues, on-target. They will not be swayed by mere facts.
In a blog setting it may not be worthwhile to make a distinction — disruption is disruption, and it’s probably best to shut it down so that cooler heads may have an actual discussion. But in a forum, one has an advantage: you can split some types of crackpottery off into its own discussion, and it can be fun trying to pick apart the subtleties of somebody’s pet theory, even though they will never admit to the contradictions you uncover.
There was some discussion about whether it’s better to shut comments off completely, or perhaps just ignoring comments altogether, and that really depends on the goals of traffic and participation. It’s not something I’ve had to worry too much about. Commentary I get is pretty well-behaved, for the most part, and I don’t have an issue with shills (paid trolls) showing up to repeat some message. Aside from Conservapedia, most of physics is pretty controversy-free from that perspective.
Further thoughts from Science Online 2013
Two of the sessions I attended dealt with probability and statistics in some fashion, and how to deal with them. The really big-picture take-away from the discussions was that people don’t understand statistics and related subjects, so one needs to be extra careful in conveying this information. It’s necessary to provide context when citing any numbers in order to minimize the potential to misunderstand them.
One need look no further than the hubbub raised by Nate Silver’s predictions and how they were misinterpreted— the “80% probability that he will get 51% of the vote” and similar predictions. Once you get past “4 out of 5 dentists recommend Crusty toothpaste” heads start swimming. One can go to the next step and look at situations where you have low probability but devastating consequences — examples were things like an asteroid impact or the possibility that the Large Hadron Collider would destroy the earth. Some people get very upset over topics like these when they adopt the “I could be the one” thinking that prompts people to buy lottery tickets every week.
This leads into issues of not properly understanding risk, something humans are really bad at assessing. Fear of issues that are not under our control can evoke strong responses, even when the odds are slim. We see reports of every plane crash and they tend to affect many people, so one might get the impression that plane travel is unsafe, even though it’s safer than driving.
Related to this is the fact that science is inherently tied in with uncertainty, and that can be innocently misunderstood or cynically exploited. The LHC example, in which one of the opponents said that since it either would blow up the world or wouldn’t, the odds were 50/50. That’s such a laughably horrible misunderstanding of probability that it was really effective when The Daily Show responded by mocking it. Unfortunately, not all misuse of probability is so egregious that people can see how ridiculous it is.
Beyond this, there are those who are quite happy to undermine the credibility of science by exploiting statistics and the uncertainty. Science is always subject to change when more and better data are obtained, but even though this is a strength of the system, there are those who use it to imply that we can’t trust it — peddling the idea that the only choice is between knowing everything and knowing nothing.
It’s a difficult problem. Unfortunately, with such a wide spectrum of issues, we’re short on answers on the best way to deal with them.
Edit: I like this commentary regarding the recent Jared Diamond blurb I had linked to, and rare+spectacular risk vs everyday risks, and how we react. (Though I think shark attack might work better than tiger attack as an example.)
More thoughts from Science Online 2013
There’s still a divide between bloggers and journalists that hasn’t been fully addressed by the “unconference” format. The emphasis of some sessions were identifiable by their title or description, but others were not. For example, the session on how to keep your public/work/private lives and identities separate was pretty clearly aimed at bloggers (and said so in the description) but in a session that is not so specific, there can be a different perspective on how a scientist-blogger sees and reacts to a situation that is different from how a science journalist sees it. And there were instances where a discussion ended up being heavily skewed toward the journalism side. That’s at least partly a moderation issue; in some sessions moderators wouldn’t hand the microphone to the same person if there was anyone who hadn’t had a chance yet, while in others the same people were getting multiple chances to give their perspective. I’m a fan of the wider spectrum of responses, so I’d like to see that a more conscious effort on the part of the moderators — even a simple “Is there a blogger perspective on this issue?” before going on to the next topic would suffice.
I think this is a real issue; I was first exposed to it the first year I attended the conference when I attended a session on journalism standards (knowing it would be mostly journalists attending) and listening to them discuss credibility. I realized that a professional journalist tends to look at credibility in a very different way than I, and probably other bloggers, do. I also realized that other advice that was being given was valid only under certain assumptions, which did not always apply. There’s no one answer to many of the questions of how one should write or otherwise communicate, and I think the whole science communication ecosphere is strengthened by diversity, so I feel that you have to foster that diversity in these discussions. To borrow from something Chad posted on the topic, answers to questions should not be framed as “What would Ed Yong do?” (not to pick on Ed, whom I respect greatly, but that’s the name that came up. Feel free to substitute any of the names of top science journalists) since we’re not all approaching our craft in the same way.
I’m back and recovering from the Science Online conference; recovering in the sense of being exhausted (but in a good way) and also because I discovered the frictionless surface section in my shower on the last day and went ass-over-teakettle. (Interesting phrase, which implies one’s normal configuration is ass-under-teakettle) That little event, coupled with a 4.5 hour drive, means my back is exceedingly stiff and sore at the moment. More on me later.
I enjoyed the conference, as I had the previous two, which explains why I keep coming back. The organizers, Karyn Traphagen, Bora Zivkovic and Anton Zuiker, did a wonderful job and NC State provided a great venue. Last year there was a hiccup or two with the logistics as the conference transitioned to the new site and also expanded, but things ran pretty smoothly this year — our bus had to reboot its computer one evening, but that was no big deal. I got to see many people whom I met the past two years and meet some new folks (or re-meet a couple who didn’t remember meeting me before, but that happens)
It’s called an un-conference, meaning that most of the sessions are not simply people at a podium giving a powerpoint presentation on some subject — the sessions are moderated, but much of the time is spent with audience members asking and answering questions, and there is opportunity for further discussions during the breaks, if you wanted to follow up on some line of inquiry.
I took some notes and will have a few posts on sessions I attended. Recalling conversations will be more difficult — things have kind of blurred together. But I have some overall impressions of the conference:
Twitter was big. I was much more involved, mainly because last year I didn’t want to lug my heavy laptop around and was limited by using my iPod touch. This year I have a iPad which I used for taking notes and let me tweet as well. Wi-fi was fast and there were power strips everywhere, so one could plug in and not drain batteries too far. Each of the session had their own hashtag so that commentary can be aggregated — not only comments at the time, but anyone posting a link down the road. There were a few people who recognized me by my twitter handle rather than my name.
Dinner diffusion is still an issue. Fortunately there was a decision-maker who had a restaurant-finding app, which streamlined the whole process. Lunch was far easier, since you could sit down at pretty much any table and be able to have a good conversation. One day there was a sign-up for lunches; each table had a presenter (from either one of the “converge” or “blitz” sessions, which were not interactive) at it; I got to sit with Doug Ellison, who is a Visualization Producer at JPL and was one of the people behind the Curiosity / 7 Minutes of Terror animation. Incredible. Another day was a hastily-organized lunch with physics-types to discuss some possible science-communication-related collaborations.
Hanging out with smart people is incredible. I get to do this at work (I like my job) but at this conference there is the whole spectrum of science and people whose job and/or passion is to explain science to people who don’t work in that field. I don’t get tired of having people say “That’s cool” when I tell them that I build atomic clocks for a living, or hear about them tell me what their interesting job is.
Tying up the last few sessions I’m going to write about…
Part of this seemed geared toward the journalism side of the house, since there was a fair amount of discussion on demographics and statistics, but some of it applied to the bloggers among the crowd. One of the main points was that comments don’t really tell you much about your audience — many people simply like to lurk and read, and have nothing to add or question. So commenters, as with volunteer surveys, do not give you a good sample; it’s not unusual for the commenters to be the people who are simply having a strong reaction to what was posted. And you may not even be getting a fair sample of the extrema, since there’s an adage from word-of-mouth-land that people who are happy with a service or product tell one or two people, but if you are angry you tell everyone (something for customer service folk to keep in mind).
However, if you do want people to comment, you have to make sure that there aren’t barriers. Many people find the requirement to register before you can comment as off-putting and a sign that you really aren’t interested. More applicable to commercial sites, I would think.
I Can Haz Context
Some important tidbits from this session. There was a focus on how annoying it can be to tune into a news broadcast, where you have no idea what’s going on, because the focus is on bringing you the latest details, and not giving you the background. Blogs aren’t going to bring breaking news, so it’s imperative to include material that gives background and context to whatever it is you are writing about. Depth is what we bloggers (and journalists) can give, so we need to take advantage of that.
Once again, there was a large swath of discussion pertaining to commercial sites and page views — the best way to get people to click through to supporting “explainer” links where you’ve gone into more depth. The consensus was that link at the beginning (A kind of “you must read this if you don’t understand X” link) or at the end, because readers are less likely to interrupt their reading to go to those links. (I really can’t corroborate this)
One of the sessions that I really enjoyed at ScienceOnline 2012 was It’s Good to be the King, which was a discussion cast in the context of some Mel Brooks clips, which I thought was a clever way to shape the discussion.
The first clip was from Young Frankenstein, where Dr. Frankenstein meets Igor at the train station, and they go through the name pronunciation scene (FrankenSTEIN vs FRANKenstein, and EEgor vs EYEgor), and the upshot of this was that you get to choose your own identity in the blogohedron. How you blog and what you blog about is up to you. You can even be Frau Blücher, if what you want to do is elicit whinnying with everything you post.
Next up was a scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights that involved some fumbling about with the language and ending with an allusion to the many incarnations of the movie. The idea that wordplay is good in posts and it’s okay to do something that’s been done before if you give it your own slant. Other items discussed were the use of pop-culture references and punny post titles (Gee, I should give that a try)
Blazing Saddles was next, with the scene where Bart says that it’s “getting pretty damn dull around here.” Obviously, you don’t want to fall into a blogging rut, for both your sake and that of your audience.
This was followed by Dracula, Dead and Loving It (which I have not seen, so I was not familiar with the scene) where one character drives a stake into the vampire and gallons of blood gush out with each blow. The premise here was that Mel Brooks liked to repeat a joke well past its peak, but with the over-repetition it would (usually) become funny again. The lesson was that you shouldn’t be afraid to re-blog content, if you have a new take on it.
Spaceballs followed, with the scene where president Skroob gets teleported with his head on backwards, and asks “Why didn’t somebody tell me my ass was so big?” The topic here was criticism, and how to solicit it. You need, and should want, honest feedback on your writing, and unsolicited feedback is usually not of the constructive sort, so you may have to specifically ask for it from select individuals.
The last segment was “It’s good to be the king” from History of the World, Part I. Don’t get too comfortable being the king — don’t get set in your ways, and remember that the content is really the king.
[W]e live in a world where it’s de rigueur to know your Shakespeare, Molière or Goethe, but quite all right to be proudly ignorant of Faraday, Pasteur or Einstein. It hasn’t always been that way, and it doesn’t have to be that way. But right now, there’s a trend in society towards scientific apathy, and even antagonism. This is dangerous for us all and it’s incumbent on the scientific community to address the issue.
I think it’s de rigueur to know your Shakespeare, Molière or Goethe if you want to claim to be an intellectual (which, as I have said, I do not). But I think one must note that literacy is a term we associate with a minimum level of capability. One who is literate can read, but that does not mean that said person will be able to appreciate the works of Shakespeare (or Molière or Goethe). That next level is where we find interactional expertise, and we need to be clear whether we expect this, or simply literacy. But anyone claiming to be an intellectual cannot legitimately exclude math and science from their arsenal.
Somewhat related to this topic, I have to say that
Howard Johnson Jennifer is right! in Meet Me Halfway
It’s frustrating. That frustration is often expressed in a renewed cracking of the whip, insisting that scientists just need to do better in communicating via public outreach. While I agree that the scientific community should (and is) working to improve in that area — heck, I do this for a living and still am constantly striving to improve! — what Hasson’s research clearly shows is that genuine communication is a two-way street. Scientists — a.k.a., the speakers — are only half of the equation, and thus they are only half of the problem.
The other half of the equation are the listeners; any type of communication will fail if it doesn’t have a receptive audience. And I’d go one step further. We tend to think of listening as a passive act, but it actually requires some effort in order to achieve that elusive connection. Particularly when it comes to bridging a gap, as with scientists and the general public, the listeners need to be more actively engaged, more invested in having a true conversation.
This is a view I’ve held for a long time. There are concepts that do require years of college to get a handle on, and reading a pop-sci book is not a substitute. You have to go out and expend some effort to have your interactional expertise if you want to be part of the conversation.
All of which ties in to a session I attended on scientific literacy (Is encouraging scientific literacy more than telling people what they need to know) at ScienceOnline 2012. We agreed that it’s important, because science appears in many places and people need to be able to make informed decisions, but in light of Jennifer’s post, I think one must add that people need to be motivated to want to make informed decisions, and take steps toward that end.
There was an interesting exercise in which the (Canadian) moderators gave a short dialogue about a curling result, and used the collective sports (il)literacy as an analogy for science (though it’s not the first time one might have thought of this). Since I lived in Canada for 2.5 years and am familiar with curling, though, I didn’t get the full benefit of the exercise.
The FTL neutrino experiment came up as well, and I wish I had better notes because I don’t recall exactly what the objection was — something about conflicting information being presented, but this is because most physicists are not neutrino experts and there’s a difference between literacy and expertise. I pointed out that in some ways, the issue actually raised scientific literacy, because it was a demonstration of the scientific process.
There was a very interesting example given by one of the moderators (Catherine Anderson, with whom I talked at length about this after the session) about some science-camp exercises that were modeled to be like a CSI investigation. Clues were given and the students had to gather evidence and make their case, but one of the driving lessons of the exercise was that there was no right answer, just as in any part of “real” science — you do your experiment and then have to interpret the results. There’s no “right answer” to compare it to, which is one of the tougher concepts I’ve had to try to convey in introductory physics labs back when I was doing that sort of thing. The students get the idea that experimental error was the difference between what they got and what the textbook said they should get. I occasionally try and think of ways one could do a lab where the “right” answer isn’t available, so the students would have to the chance to do something that compared to real science investigation, and understanding the process of science and how uncertainty/error fits in is a big part of scientific literacy
The keynote presentation at the UnConference, ScienceOnline2012 was given by Mireya Mayor, an Anthropologist/Primatologist who has worked for National Geographic, entitled The Vain Girl’s Survival Guide to Science and The Media, and told (part of) her tale of her path to becoming a scientist and science communicator, and some of the obstacles on it. You can watch a video of an earlier, similar presentation and audio of the talk — the story of someone who chose to dive into the deep end of science in the field, and quickly learned to swim. Pretty awesome. I had the thought that if she had chosen to be an archaeologist, she would be a real-life, modern-day Indiana Jones. (Maybe with less shooting)
There were some strong messages I took away from the talk. Mireya spoke of expectations and also of a risk she took in showing emotion in a documentary (in a situation involving gorilla poachers, and gorilla parts on a barbecue pit), which is more of a risk because she’s a woman. It’s a risk because of the stereotype of a scientist: a man in a lab coat, probably with a test tube and bunsen burner, and coldly analytical. (The only emotion you can show is geeky enthusiasm) So that particular scene strikes at all three facets of the stereotype — not a man, not in a lab, and showing a forbidden emotion.
That led into a related question: what does a scientist look like? I think it’s great when scientists show they are not at all like the stereotype, though I’ve seen that this does not always happen — read The Sexing Up Of Science (I’m Coming Out! And So Can You!) for another perspective, and Things I Found Ponderable: #scio12 Report the First for some reactions to Mireya’s talk (including a response from her). The issue evokes some strong feelings, some surprising, some all too predictable. But the goal is getting people interested in science, so the approach seems to be working, as evidenced by feedback she gets, like I didn’t know I could become a scientist.
There’s some good science communication advice in the talk as well. Keep it simple, talk to a general audience as if you were talking to someone in a bar. Remember you may be dealing with people who don’t see the connection of the science to them — if they don’t see how it affects them, they don’t know why they should care about it.
I’m still in recovery mode from my recent trip to ScienceOnline2012. It didn’t help at all that I had a nasty cold the week prior to it, except that having that cold during the conference would have been much worse, because I couldn’t have gone. The residual congestion and wrecked voice weren’t the biggest problem — it was not being at full strength and stamina, which made being “up” for the conference and after-conference activities that much harder.
And being “up” is a requirement. This is the Un-Conference, so unlike traditional gatherings where speaker after speaker drones on for 12 (or 15 or whatever minutes), delving deeper into material you may or may not understand very well, this gathering is very interactive. Even though I was tired, I was rarely in danger of falling asleep.
I find the ScienceOnline series to be an elevating experience. It had better be, because for me this is a vacation and all expenses are out-of-pocket, so I truly appreciate how far the organizers (Bora Zivkovic, Anton Zuiker and Karyn Traphagen, and many other volunteers — thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou) stretch my conference dollar to provide such an event. You have several hundred people whose passion is science communication (either by job or by hobby), many of whom are either well-reknowned science journalists or practicing scientists. Anyone you walk up to is going to be good at talking about some aspect of science at a level you (especially being scientifically literate) are going to be able to understand. As I did last year, I met a lot of people by simply sitting down at breakfast or lunch with some people I didn’t know, do the introductions and ask them what they did (also on the bus for one-on-one conversations). The other strategy was hanging out with DrSkyskull, because he knows everyone.
The un-conference style meant that most sessions were basically a large conversation on the topic at hand, albeit with only one person talking at a time. The session moderators contribute and keep the conversation moving and although they might have an outline of how the hour is supposed to go, they have to react to whatever comes up; some sessions are structured more than others.
Another aspect of this was that the break are — the café — was always open during the conference hours. There were scheduled breaks between sessions, which gave you an opportunity to follow up on a discussion if you wanted to, but the availability of beverages and food was not limited — there was no “you will mingle NOW and only now” structure imposed on us.
I’ll continue with the conference sessions I attended soon; I’ve already posted about the art and the eternal struggle between scientists and journalists, and won’t talk more about the session on history of science.
Still going with my general trend of reporting on ScienceOnline 2012 by working backwards, I’m going to quasi-summarize the panel discussion, The Sticky Wicket of the Scientist-Journalist Relationship, which closed out the conference. The panel members were David Kroll, Bora Zivkovic, Maggie Koerth-Baker and Seth Mnookin, which means it was slanted toward the journalist point of view, but it was indeed interesting to get that perspective.
Out of the gate, Maggie Koerth-Baker set the tone about the journalist perspective: I am not your goddam stenographer. I don’t trust you implicitly and I don’t want to be a fanboy. (That’s a paraphrase, but pretty close to a direct quote). And that’s fair, I think, especially with the recent and laughable query about being fact-vigilantes, one shouldn’t expect any journalists to simply repeat what they are told.
We were also cautioned that the journalist’s motivation for writing an article may not coincide with the scientist’s agenda — don’t assume it is and find out those details. This ties in to the concern of some about being misquoted; even though the journalist probably isn’t out to “get” a scientist, you won’t have a chance to backtrack on your comments. So you should correct yourself immediately if you mis-speak. There was also the suggestion that it’s OK to speak to a reporter off the record, and then agree afterward to allow some comments to be on the record. That gives the scientist some control over the issue.
What was interesting to me was a comment by Seth Mnookin about how scientists are surprised that journalists often don’t check back with the scientist they’ve interviewed and show them the story before it’s published. Some of this is motivated by not wanting to edit quotes, but from my perspective it’s about a concern to get the facts right. My own experience on this is mixed — I’ve been interviewed or involved in email exchanges, and been offered differing levels of opportunity to provide feedback. But I completely understand the scientist position — I think it’s a general desire in the science community that the science be understood correctly, and anyone who has taught knows how often it happens that complex concepts are misunderstood, especially without the feedback. So it is a surprise to me that a journalist would not double-check their story to make sure they got it right. Getting it wrong undermines the credibility of everyone involved, though my personal bias is that when I see obvious errors I am going to assume the scientist knows what s/he is talking about and the journalist screwed it up. That might not always be true, but it’s probably the way to bet.
One the other side of the coin, journalists can get burned by scientists pushing bad science and treating it like peer review, in that they figure a newer story can come along and correct any mistakes. I don’t think much of that approach — scientists have an obligation to make clear what is sound and what is speculation.
Having said all that, I have to agree with what Ed Yong has posted a few days back: Every scientists-versus-journalists debate ever, in one diagram
Basically, good journalists are going to complain about bad scientists and good scientists are going to complain about bad journalists. I know I do. And I don’t praise good science journalism often enough.
Which brings me to the point that I wish I has thought of before the panel discussion ended. Perhaps we have some common ground after all. Maybe we can agree on a problem we have in common: crap story titles. There’s something uniquely frustrating in reading the title of an article and then find out that the article itself doesn’t support the title, or (in some cases) completely contradicts it. It’s usually an editor that did it. I hope that journalists find this as annoying as this scientist does.