Unholy mix: Science and journalism | VailDaily.com
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Unholy mix: Science and journalism

Don Rogers

Journalism is a little like the Supreme Court. A little behind the times. But that’s good. It enables society to catch up.

One of the reliable, if irritating, navel-gaving journalism journals is the Neiman Reports, another product of Harvard beyond CEOs and lawyers and politicians.

The publication comes quarterly, and I usually wind up reading at least part of it. Generally, it’s another of those “what’s wrong with journalism” whiny pamphlets that takes itself way, way too seriously, with pieces written by folks who take themselves way, way too seriously.



It’s part of my problem with journalism. We’re a bunch of of salt-and-pepper bearded “hip” guys with elbow patches on our coats. We know we’re not really hip or cool or with it or anything like that. But we think we can recognize coolness and exploit it, and all too ready to explain how only we know. A bunch of would be prophets.

Problem is we only know how to talk about how we’re in trouble, others aren’t as cool ” well, don’t recognize cool like we do, we with The Answers and all ” and how the way we’re doing it is all wrong. All wrong.

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So anyway, after reading all about how we don’t have a clue about the Internet and podcasting etc., then how we blew Katrina (as if no one else did, either), we get into how journalism is allegedly screwing up with reporting on science and issues such as “intelligent design” and global warming.

You know, I’d be thoroughly depressed if I didn’t truly believe my favorite professionalism is just full of it when it comes to looking at itself. All these smart asses wringing their hands and trying to convince the rest of us they have anything resembling a clue, while talking over the next fella with all the answers ” not that anyone really is listening. They are all busy being the next prophet to listen much to the next sage.

Sometimes I think I’d get a truer picture at the used car lot or with one of those ambulance-chasing lawyers advertising on TV. We’re not quite as rank as the opportunities from Ghana and Nigeria. I’ll give them that much.



So anyway, science journalism. Oxymoron, much like “military intelligence,” if you take Nieman too seriously.

The problem at root as journalists ” who in reality are generalists, lay people trying to capture the essence of various worlds for all those folks who are lay people outside their specialties ” well, we cover science objectively. Apparently, covering the most objective profession, um, objectively is a big ol’ problem.

Take global warming. The herd of scientists today accepts the research as basically a given. Yet journalists keep inserting opposing views as if legitimate, giving those views too much credence and quite out of whack with how mainstream science views it. That’s the criticism, anyway.

So the public doesn’t get a “true” picture of how science has conformed to a near consensus on global warming, and also evolution.

True enough. That makes sense. Of course, I keep thinking about this one crazy guy, utterly dismissed as a crank by the mainstream scientists in his field, who had the bad sense to keep pushing plate tectonics.

He didn’t deserve a second thought, according to the consensus at the time. Just another nut. Verily.

Until, of course, in time he was proven right. The cool thing about science is that it does indeed evolve. Religion does, too, incidentally, although the various sages will have to deny that as instead a more full return to the original truth.

So heretic journalists give voice to the scientists, some no doubt shills clothed in industrial science, who express doubt about the mainstream view or have kooky theories.

So what?

I think the supposed big problem is not a problem at all. Journalism is a cacophony. It does confuse things. It slows down general consensus. That sometimes creats problems, but I believe that more often this helps keeps society from leaping to conclusions, to being sheep or lemmings.

The U.S. Supreme Court is similarly behind the times. The high court was slow to progress with the big questions dealing with race, voting, education, crime and punishment, gender, religion, press and so on. The leading edge of society was well ahead of the court, which moved along just a little ahead of the general mainstream through our history. The court helped bring along society to new, ultimately better ways while allowing time to cool fads.

Similarly, any time the experts get too caught up with what journalists should not report, I do get a little concerned. History has shown too many times that the “experts” are often enough dead wrong. Science as well as other varieties.

It’s fine to acknowledge that the weight of science supports the theories of evolution and global warming. Failing to report that other voices on theses subjects exist, refusing to quote those with different views, well that smacks of something else.

If that puts journalism at odds with mainstream science, well, I’ll take that over this notion that the mainstream “weight” of legitimacy is supposed to block out other honest views.

After all, there are and will always be those tectonic plate theorists out there. So sure, there’s tension, conflict even. That means there are still questions. Even if the professors and mainstream science folks, like the politicians, would prefer we all just go with their flow. The fewer questions, the better.

Of course, that doesn’t sound much like journalism to me.


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