13 October 2011

"A jaw-dropping mixture of ignorance and arrogance"

I was going to craft a rant about this piece in the Guardian entitled "Scientists should be allowed to check stories on their work before publication" - something that David Kroll brought to my attention and later summarized - but then I read this reaction from Seth Mnookin and he said basically what I would only much, much better.  The quote I used for the title of this blogpost is his.

It was even better than the opposing viewpoint that the Guardian, to their credit, also published. Emily Willingham (one of the #scimom crowd!) wrote a brilliant piece as well.  There were also two very good pieces at Deep Sea News (here and here).

For those who don't want to click through the links - because, you know we lay folk just aren't smart enough to understand all that really complicated sciencey stuff - here's my neanderthal interpretation of what the original Guardian piece said:
Scientists should have final say over what is written in newspapers about their work because science is harder than anything else and other scientists look at the work before results are published in academic journals. 
Other people have already rightfully asserted that while science is "hard" it isn't any more complex than countless other fields such as global finance, politics, or even (in some cases) sports.  But the one point I could probably add to this discussion, as a guy who works with people in so many different backgrounds, is that scientists are by no means alone in their lament.

My entire INDUSTRY is grounded mainly in the notion that clients aren't happy with the way they're being portrayed in the media, and in turn the general public.  A big part of my job is helping clients come to grips with the notion that the journalists who cover them won't ever truly know the intricacy and the nuance,  and -- of course -- the profound importance of whatever their business is.  I've worked with energy companies, banks, food companies, transportation companies, religious organizations, health care and pharmaceutical companies, media companies, and universities.

But the one thing I've never seen - the one place none of even my most audacious clients ever dare tread -  is an assertion that their field is so complex and important that they have a right to the final word on how their work is described in the media.

Not until now, anyway.

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