In a spot-on analysis of how news sites cover scientific research, The Guardian's Martin Robbins creates a mock article that humorously details, line-by-line, how writers lazily fall into generic reporting on the subject. Beginning with an "inane" introductory question that he has "no intention of answering," Robbins then walks readers through the stock devices: there's the "basically this is a brief soundbite" paragraph from a scientist, then a bolded sub-heading that "gives the impression I am about to add useful context," rounding off with "related" links at the bottom of the article that are usually anything but. Though the parody takes a few jabs at the sometimes labyrinthine process by which academic research becomes public, the sharpest barbs are reserved for the harried writer whose job it is to "break" such news. Here are a few choice paragraphs from Martin's take:
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.
[H/T: Boing Boing]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.