This is a post about a blog about web science journalism

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:


  1. Peter E
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m forced to note the ultimate post in this vein, from Chris Clarke:

  2. MadScientist
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy Dave Mitchell’s short videos on The Guardian as well. A large fraction of all video “news” these days consists of the worse-than-amateur gimmicks presented by Brooker. The stuff makes me want to throw hard and heavy objects at the TV (poor TV). I’m always thinking “gee, here’s another cheap and lazy crew who didn’t care to put up with discomfort for a day or so and actually go to the place where the real story is happening.” Then there’s the gratuitous shot of a tourist spot which is generally far from the location of the story, as if to say “ha ha – look at me, I get to travel to these places while you’re stuck at home watching news written by a thousand monkeys banging on a thousand keyboards.”

  3. Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I thought the best part of Robbins’ funny-but-depressing article were the related links. Classic.

    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      NONE of our posts are like this!

    • Kevin
      Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Heh. I had never been “rickrolled” before and today it comes up TWICE in different contexts.


  4. Posted September 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Nice one, Charlie. I had been considering applying for some media training (I’m a clinical geneticist, and now I want to travel the world and do cool stuff like Brian Cox or Marcus du Sautoy, and leave my patients to someone else), but that sketch really gives me all the training I need.

    Where do I sign up? And can I credit that as 2 minutes of CPD?

  5. Screechy Monkey
    Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    The latest trend I’ve noticed is producers deciding “hey, since people seem to like commenting on this internet thingy, perhaps we should replace our ‘man on the street’ interviews with having the anchor read comments posted on our web site.” Because, you know, in a story about the merits of adopting a more expansionary monetary policy to stimulate the economy, I don’t want to hear any useful facts or informed opinions, let’s hear what PaulTard163 has to say about it. (Reading PaulTard163’s opinions is one of the downsides of commenting on the internet, not a feature!)

  6. Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    This comment mentions a vague memory of something sort of like the topic, but not really.

    • James Buch
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      Non-believers Know More About Religion than the Faithful !,0,3225238.story

      Atheists, agnostics most knowledgeable about religion, survey says
      Report says nonbelievers know more, on average, about religion than most faithful. Jews and Mormons also score high on the U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey.

      A Pew Research survey asking questions about religious history, scripture and religion’s role in public life revealed that the least religious Americans are the most knowledgeable about religion. A Pew Research survey asking questions about religious history, scripture and religion’s role in public life revealed that the least religious Americans are the most knowledgeable about religion.

      By Mitchell Landsberg, Los Angeles Times

      September 28, 2010

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