Watch for my weekly column to appear tomorrow. In the afternoon I leave for Penn State University, where I’ll be interviewing various scientists about evolution and talking to biologist Andrew Read’s class in science for non-majors. He asked me address the following questions:
- how you balance stories esp when one side is loony
- how do you do complexities in 200 words - e.g. complex non-science implications, or the science itself is complex
- health stories
- you could also talk about the Mike Mann saga - how you handled that etc.
- why you do an evolution column
- what are the main challenges for science journalists?
- if you guys are doing such a good job, why is the standard of public discourse in science so poor?
I have some ideas for answering the first question. We journalists usually do interview the creationists, or the UFO abductees, the quack medicine peddlers and other hucksters. We do it to tell a complete story and make sure we aren’t basing anything on faulty assumptions. We can't get away with just calling someone a liar or a loony. We have to show it.
Journalists often get criticized for presenting both sides with equal weight when one side is wacky. And it's true that being too even-handed can lead to what a journalist friend of mine used to call a “Thumb Sucker”. That was his term for a story that wavers from one side to the other without drawing a conclusion or advancing an argument.