by Matthew Cobb
Over at The Guardian, Martin Robbins has an excellent piece taking apart science journalism on the web, highlighting the lazy habits that some of us can fall into. I hope none of the posts on WEIT fall into this category, but I suspect we may occasionally have erred… Here’s an example:
In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of “scare quotes” to ensure that it’s clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.
In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research “challenges”.
If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.
This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like “the scientists say” to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.
In this paragraph I will state in which journal the research will be published. I won’t provide a link because either a) the concept of adding links to web pages is alien to the editors, b) I can’t be bothered, or c) the journal inexplicably set the embargo on the press release to expire before the paper was actually published.
The commenters then join in the game, with some fairly droll remarks taking apart the habits of blog commenters. Read and enjoy – and join in1
As one commenter points out, Robbins seems to have taken as his starting point this very sharp piece from UK satirist and Guardian writer, Charlie Brooker, on how journalists present news items: