Sunday, April 7, 2013

The First Step to Being a Science Detective: Find the Facts

Science writers can only do so much to validate facts. There are some that write the truth and others that write pure fabrications. Laws to regulate the inconsistency need to be mandated.  However, even these laws will not be foolproof. Science can be manipulated just as much as the statistics and facts that come from science. Since science writers are not always trustworthy, science readers must become detectives.

As Mark Twain said, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.” A person will believe in whatever they fancy. While their opinion may be wrong, facts can be manipulated to fit and prove/disprove any idea as needed. Often, science writers manipulate their facts in order to prove their opinion. Until laws are passed, science readers must find the facts within the article and research more than one article on the topic in addition to the scientific studies.

The facts in different science articles usually contain different truths. Statistics used must come from scientific studies, but the chosen statistics may only represent one point. In addition, some studies are more valid than others. The best advice for a science reader is to look at where the facts originated and attempt to understand the science behind the article. Even if one does not understand the science, one may begin to see and begin comprehending the truth.

Readers must be cautious of straight opinionated ‘science writing’ since there is not much regulation on science writing and so called ‘science’ is everywhere.  “Every man at the bottom of his heart believes that he is a born detective,” said John Buchan. Readers want to be detectives and form personal opinions. If science writers were to present true facts, the detectives could continue to find facts from science writing thereby creating another level of fact finding. The human mind is designed to be curious. If readers listened to their minds, they would find the truth and not be misinformed by certain science writers.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The First Step to Informing Your Audience: Speak the Truth

Fairness and balance are two objectives that many want from their media. Not only does one get both sides of the story, but equal amounts of both sides. But is it really fair to be balanced? In science, the research gives one explanation, not ‘ifs.’ Earlier, I noted that science is not always right, so shouldn’t that point to describing both sides of the story? What is a science writer to do?

As Ricky Williams said, “To talk about balance, it’s easier to talk about what’s out of balance. And I think anytime that you have any disease, and disease meaning lack of ease, lack of flow… dis-ease. So any time there’s disease, you’re out of balance, whether it’s jealousy, anger, greed, anxiety, fear.” Some media outlets have goals as to what to show their audience. Certain news shows may be conservative while others are liberal. Depending on the source, other ‘baggage’ may affect what a news source may present to their audience. As Williams said, there are so many aspects to take, in this case, the news out of balance. But what is really fair?

From the words of Michael Pollan, “Fairness forces you – even when you’re writing a piece of highly critical of, say, genetically modified food, as I have done – to make sure you represent the other side as extensively and as accurately as you possibly can.” So, a journalist wants to represent both sides, but should a science writer?

I do not know.

I am in my first six months of being a science writer and certainly do not have many answers. According to a recent study, Fox News viewers know less about particular issues than those who do not watch the news. The motto of Fox News is ‘fair and balanced.’ Is this statement misleading the audience or does Fox News have an agenda to convey the news?

When I write science articles, I offer both sides of the story that come from science. I only report scientific reports, not advocate claims. I trust that my balance continues to be fair to science and that my readers are never misled.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The First Step to Balancing Science: Choose the Color

Science is a two-sided street. There is the true and the false, the ‘science’ and the ‘skeptic.’ The world is always black and white or sometimes gray. The question is: should science writing be black and white or gray?

As Elie Wiesel said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” When science writers join the gray, are they being silent in Wiesel’s quote? When they cover both sides of the story, are they encouraging skeptics to continue? Is it ethical to continue to support skeptics, the enemy of the scientist?

As Ayn Rand said, “There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.” Science is not always right, but a science writer should only cover ‘true’ science. A skeptic does not have any scientific evidence to support their claims, only hope. As much as science writing should be balanced, the results of an experiment are not balanced. Science writers can only report the results.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The First Step to Trusting Science: View Scientists as ‘Normal’

How often do you picture a scientist resembling Albert Einstein? This crazy person with electrostatic hair speaking expeditiously is simple to picture. Even though I aspire to become a scientist, I still picture this crazy person who I secretly hope to be one day. However, at the same time, I am anxious about becoming “a scientist” due to this stereotype.

While I want to be that person that is so far off from the crowd, I want to be a person who makes a difference. However, this world is a bit stereotypical and might judge me as if I had my hair sticking straight up. The world pictures these crazy scientists when reading scientific articles. How can trust be afforded to those unable to be properly groomed?

Scientists are not ‘crazy’ people. I have personally met only two who may be titled remotely ‘crazy,’ others could say they had a screw loose. The reason society sees scientists as being crazy is due to basing opinions from stereotypical television shows and movies. Society views scientists working in a dark, basement lab day and night trying to discover the latest cure without time for personal gains. This stereotype can only be altered by modern scientists with human traits.

As Joss Whedon said, “I’ll take crazy over stupid any day.” Scientists will always be slightly crazy. Their work requires years of education and honestly that work can make one go insane. Society needs to realize that the best scientist may appear to be ridiculous, for example, Albert Einstein. However, these scientists can still be trusted. The stereotype of scientist may cause mistrust from the public especially among science writing. The science writer cannot do much to try to alter this opinion except continue to publish articles in the most trustworthy manner (and maybe publish a few ‘normal’ pictures).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The First Step to Telling the Truth: Ban Truthiness from Science Writing

truthiness (noun)
1. “truth that comes from the gut, not books” (Stephen Colbert)
    2. the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true

In my life, truthiness does not play a larger position in my decisions within the realm of science. I leave my diagnosis to the doctors and trust researchers. Researchers have more knowledge and avenues to collect knowledge than I do. However, I will read many scholarly articles based on the same topic if I do not agree with the initial findings even though I may not comprehend all of science. I may not use my gut to tell me the truthiness, but can trust my gut, in my opinion, if a doctor appears to have misdiagnosed me. I am the sick one, of course.

The question is: should a science writer base stories solely on the truth or is it acceptable/responsible/ethical to write something truthy? It is difficult to argue with scientific facts because of the time and research invested. As stated in the previous post, science is not always right. However, as a science writer, one cannot make up “science” based on one’s gut. If one wants to pass themselves off as a science writer, one must write about true science that is based on research in a laboratory with a researcher, not truthy science that is based on gut.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” If science writers decide to hide the truth from the public through using truthiness, advances cannot be made. No matter how horrible the truth, it is our job to report it. There will be times that we, as science writers, do not agree with the truth. The right thing to do may be to avoid writing the article. Now, that sounds just as misguided as presenting the wrong information, but there are other science writers. The world isn’t only looking to one for information. The thing is: if you don’t feel comfortable putting your name on the article, don’t do it.

According to Bo Bennett, “For every good reason there is to lie, there is a better reason to tell the truth.” And for every good reason there is to substitute truthiness, there is an even more compelling reason to tell the truth. When science writers begin to enter the realm of truthiness, readers become confused. Even though one science writer reports truthiness doesn’t mean that another won’t report the truth. Too many conflicting stories confuse readers, resulting in the loss of trust in science and science writers. That is and will never be our goal. Therefore, ban truthiness in our writing and report only the truth!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The First Step to Persuading All: Understand Scientists Are Not God

You are a science writer. You report ONLY the findings of doctors and researchers. The news that you report is correct, will always be correct, because it comes from science. Hours and hours of research have been done just for you to write a short article that will be put only at the back of the newspaper once a week. Therefore, what you write will always be correct.


Science makes mistakes. Scientists come to many wrong conclusions.

As Lemony Snicket said in The Blank Book, “It is very unnerving to be proven wrong, particularly when you are really right and the person who is wrong is proving you wrong and proving himself, wrongly, right.” It is frustrating to those who think they are right but told their thoughts are wrong. This happens amongst science writers and scientists alike. Science advocates essentially tell science writers that their ideas are incorrect. It is difficult to not take it this negativity to heart.

Think about Nietzsche’s view, “There are no facts, only interpretations.” Many people will ignore scientific evidence because that is not their interpretation of the world. Science writers need to understand that because something is perceived as correct and science proves that it is correct does not mean that it is correct. There could be many other answers or avenues that science has not yet discovered. Science writers should not laugh at their potential readers since the readers do not have the same interpretation of the research being presented. Embrace your readers or the result may be that you will have no readers. Do more research. Science is not willing to hand you the answer.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The First Step to Gifting Science: Wrap It

Science is a gift that not many people appreciate. They don't understand her complexities and don't take advantage of her gift. It is up to science writers to give science in order to benefit the common good. Science writers need to almost hide the scientific portion of science in order to entice readers to read their articles. The gift of science must be wrapped.

Sarah Vowell could not have said it better, "What are you hiding? No one ever asks that." Why is that people always question the ideas that are out in the open, but don't question those that we choose to hide? It is not the fact of seeing it; it is that people choose avoidance. If science writers were able to wrap the gift of science, readers may not question the gift, they would blindly accept.

When a science writer can 'hide' their gift of science from the public's view, more readers will read. If done correctly, there will be an increase in scientific literacy and understanding. Gifts are almost always well received; let's make it our goal so that people want to receive the gift of science.