Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Scientific Method and Journalism.


Why a good number of Americans think their ‘fair and impartial’ press is anything but.

Stephen denBeste of USS Clueless and Wretchard of the Belmont Club (and many others) seem to be trying to tackle the fickle nature of the press in its reporting of the Middle Eastern conflict.

To many, the press seems to have an agenda instead of zeal to determine facts.
Now, I’m not going to add my voice to the cacophony lambasting the press for bias. I think bias is not only unavoidable but it is in many ways desirable. However, journalists should and must separate fact from opinion. As a Journalist, it is your primary responsibility to inform. That means in many ways reporting and sifting through boring, uninteresting data, and then presenting an opinion.

Forensic Anthropology has always held a bit of a special interest for me. It is the process by which an investigator teases out fact from a locale. When did this person die? How did this person die? How did this person end up here? What is this piece of fiber? Etc. In many ways, journalism has far more in common with Forensics than with literary scholastic studies. Sure, it helps if you con communicate effectively, but that isn’t the point of a journalists job? A journalist needs to sift through data, present said data in a fair manner, then and only then, render an opinion.

Carl Sagan was one of the foremost and effective proponents of ‘Critical thinking’. Not adolescent ‘Question Authority’ but rather the process by which people need to apply a ‘BS detection kit’ to the data presented to them and try to come to the simplest, most reasonable and hopefully most accurate answer. Do magnets in the feet promote blood circulation? Does an ‘air spray’ destroy ‘odor molecules’? And on and on the barrage of weird data drums on.

Journalists need to be on the front line of employing a ‘BS detection toolkit’. In many ways, journalists need to act as a filter against spin and nonsense. However, when a journalists claims impartiality while clearly agitating an opinion, they loose credibility. We all have opinions, even journalists. Which is fine. Just don’t present it as ‘impartial’ or label yourself as the ‘impartial press’ if that is what you are doing. It’s insulting. Everyone has an opinion, and it is going to show through in your writing. At least be honest about it.

To be ‘Impartial watchdogs, a check against government’ the press must engage in forensics, not journalism. And until the press understands this a significant portion of their audience will mistrust the message as presented.


Post a Comment

<< Home