Mr. Popkin, your piece is spot on. Facts matter.
“It is not the media’s role to take sides in a political fight, or to decide that certain science, such as environmental or public health science, gets to represent all science. It is the media’s job to report what is happening, as comprehensively as possible, so that readers can make the best decisions possible.”
Not really. It would be impossible to report everything as comprehensively as possible. That would be like saying there should be no media and citizens should just read every document produced in its entirety. At some point, a journalist is always going to have to make a subjective decision: Is this story newsworthy?
There was no time when journalists were perfectly objective. At different times journalists found certain stories not-newsworthy, stories of sexual assault and racism, for instance. Ignoring these stories was always a subjective decision that shaped public perception in certain political ways, whether the journalists admitted it or not.
Historians have long been discussing how the past may be objective (what did happen vs what didn’t happen), but history is subjectively made (whose stories are told, whose stories are ignored?). This is true for journalism too.
As a close follower of quantum information sciance and other disruptive technologies, Mr. Popkin, you are 100% correct in what you are saying. Apolitical science research and development is needed. Facts matter; something, left out in mass media which has led to the hysteria and soon to be designated Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Good piece, keep up the efforts.
Popkin confuses science with technology. He also ignores the atrocious effect of denying the climate science consensus. I find little of value in this essay.
when the obvious is ignores it often bites in the butt.
Part of the problem is the politicizing of science. Thoughtful discussion on scientific issues does not happen in the press or in goverment. Equating science and budgets is not correct. In my work, I developed proven, patent pending, digestive, FDA additive Fish pesticide. The target is the bighead and silver Asian carps. Federal support is close to zero in spite of Federal spending of over $500 million since 2008. The money goes for barriers, like the proposed $778 million Brandon Lock barrier and commercial harvesting. Neither will accomplish anything. The scientist want to continue their work and so expect their budgets to be renewed each year. In the meantime rural Mississippi Basin America suffers for a solution. I have been turned down on 8 of 9 grants, one is still pending. Investors have no interest because the market is too small. Want to know why the Federal government pays too much for things, bad science and bad decisions.
The basic problem is that Trump denigrates the science that underpins issues that he wishes would go away, e.g., climate change, pollution of the environment, etc. He calls such science a hoax, fake news, and so on. To me that is a war of words directed against any area is science that is at odds with his political agenda. He has no apparent grasp of how science works, as exemplified by his oxymoronic claim that he has an “instinct” for science. He probably doesn’t even know the scientific definition of instinct.
This article says “the dominant narrative is that the administration is conducting a “war on science””.
Sadly, while that may be true, the piece fails the first test of science. It provides no evidence to support that assertion.
Can someone point me towards a scientifically credible bit of the media where a writer with a track record in reporting science policy has written of a “war on science”?
It may be that there are dozens of articles in Science, Nature, The NYT etc., that make this argument. I am just too lazy to go and look for them.
PS I do not agree with Dan Vergano that journalism is a “profession”. That label requires a wall load of certificates that testify to a learning process that takes years. Journalism is a “trade”. You don’t have to pass exams to join the club.
I’m very sympathetic to this line of argument, and appreciate it as a voice of caution against indulging in the moronic inferno of the political world. But a Trump administration “war on science” is light years far from a dominant narrative in any sense at the moment anywhere. I sit in a DC bureau amid political reporters, and I can tell you it’s just not what is going on. A pair of articles from two UK outlets pales against the days of the Bush administration where this was a common idea.
Which is a shame, because the collapse of a central premise undercuts the helpful cautions that the article is trying to get across. Every administration going back to Clinton has increasingly tried to kneecap reporters access to federal scientists, reports, and other public records. This administration has continued that pattern in gross ways e.g. telling CDC health statistics officials to bury reporter data requests. It is a continuation of this pattern under Trump, but nobody serious is hyperventilating that this is a war on science (even the Nature piece is about EPA, where contra this article, the exodus of scientists is a genuine public health concern.) But the news that the US still funds science under Trump, which I think the article is requesting someone publish, isn’t news, and it isn’t clear to me why anyone would think it is.
There are other problems. The article suggests that it is not the job of journalists to be advocates, which is one view of things (the view I try to have) but it is not the case for everyone. Tell it to Upton Sinclair. Plenty of good science journalists are advocates for one viewpoint or another, it’s a long standing role in journalism. The whole field is devoted to cheerleading scientific discoveries, for God’s sake, which is its own form of advocacy.
The article also suggests it is the job of reporters to tell readers about agencies where the Trump administration is doing good things. Is it? It seems like we have plenty of flacks to do that and our time on Earth might be better spent telling readers about things that are harming them, such as the genuinely dubious arguments made at EPA, NHTSA, or DOI right now for example, about matters of environmental health or conservation, rather than celebrating every black hole sighting announcement orchestrated by those PR folks. But to each his own. Journalism is a free country, which is one of the things that makes it good and useful.
There is also a contention that the job of science reporters is to enlighten the benighted folks who doubt climate science or vaccines. Is it? This is the so-called deficit model of science illiteracy and it doesn’t work, for one objection. For another, the job of swaying these folks seems to me to walk perilously close to the advocacy we are advised to avoid. There is a lot of evidence that these issues aren’t amenable to our efforts, regardless. In a democracy our role is to provide readers with journalism as our individual talents and interests best allow, I’d argue. That’s why our names are on the stories — it is a profession, not a delivery service.
Apologies if I’ve read too much into the article, but this particular scolding seems unwarranted right now. What we need is more science reporters diving into the nitty gritty of the administration naming regulated industry stooges to advisory panels, releasing justifications for cutting climate rules that fail a laugh test on the first reading, and calling for a moon base to boost its political fortunes, and so on. I see too little of this, not too much.
There is a general rule of thumb in life as a reporter. Whenever anyone says “The media…” or “The press …” or “Journalists …” they are talking out of their fundamental orifice, disgorging some personal bone stuck in their craw. The arguments made here could have been sharpened to break this rule, but instead remain undigested.
I take the point but I also think this essay misses the point. Trump repeatedly lies and make assertions without evidence and maintains there are alternative facts and uses words as if they were meaningless tokens and disrespects expertise. All of this is an attack on science and a very fundmanetal one that will damage science long after he is gone.
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