Scientists and Journalists

There is no shortage of people that are happy to loudly proclaim how mainstream media cannot be trusted.  Many of these same people believe that scientists cannot be trusted and cite many of the same reasons.  Though I disagree with the notion that both groups are untrustworthy, I agree that there are many similarities between the groups of mainstream journalists and mainstream scientists and put forth that those defining characteristics are exactly the reason why both groups are worth of our respect and trust.

In both groups there are well established and agreed upon processes for seeking out truth.  Both sets of processes depend upon corroboration to support findings.  Both groups contain a large amount of individuals who are actively seeking individual recognition and one of the fastest ways to be recognized in one’s respective field, be it by science or investigative journalism, is to invalidate someone else’s claim.  It is more difficult to produce something that stands up to the rigors of peer review than to find evidence that invalidates a portion or all of someone’s work.  There is great incentive therefore for individuals to participate in the peer review processes.

Not all people who work in the field of science are scientists and not all people who work in the news field are journalists.  For most people, I would think they look no further than to get their information from sources who are reporting or summarizing what was discovered by actual scientists or investigative journalists.  For many people, even this must seem too tedious and so they turn to sources who offer emotion laden commentary citing other commentators or headlines; many times without a mention of any of the series of steps that support the idea and establish truth and validity.   In both fields there are well established sources considered reputable and which are frequently quoted or paraphrased by others in the field.  These are the sources that should form the strength of our understanding of what is to be considered true in each respective field.

It is a mistake to lump all information provided by a single organization into a single category.  Not all shows on the CNN, FOX or MSNBC news channels should be considered journalism; therefore it is unfair to classify an information source strictly by the channel that broadcasts that information.  I wish more people would better understand the differences between news talk shows (commentary), news digest, and journalistic reporting and then judge each independently.  Similarly, scientific research should stand on its own merit and not be judged strictly on whether it occurred at an educational institution versus a private organization.

A common claim is that scientific studies performed or funded by private businesses and organizations are untrustworthy due to enforced bias where the business or organization manipulates the outcome of the study to favor itself.  Similarly, it is commonly claimed that news reporting on major networks is untrustworthy due to enforced bias to placate advertisers.  It is plausible to believe that both claims sometime do occur and that the information put forth is at best flawed and at worst in error.  However, there is not sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that this sort of misrepresentation of the truth is widespread.  Regardless, this line of thinking would have us invalidate all sources of information since all need to be funded and would therefore be subject to biased influence from the funding source.

In both groups (scientists and journalists) we can expect that there are individuals who do not follow the norms for each group respectively.  There are individuals who will seek to purposely misrepresent the truth.  There are individuals who will make errors in judgement or be misled by others.  Too many people seeking the immediate gratification of quick information, allow themselves to have their beliefs shaped by information with little merit or information that is later refuted.  The best defense against being misled is to sit back and observe.  Let the peer review process work.  When independent sources offering corroboratory evidence and confirmation starts accumulating, it is a good bet that we are nearing the truth.

 

5 thoughts on “Scientists and Journalists

  1. After watching the near 3 hour documentary I stand by my original post but feel the need to publish a new separate post to cover my observations and opinions concerning Noam Chomsky and his documentary Manufacturing Consent which proposes that what we know as “Mainstream Media” is an organized system of mass propaganda under the reins of the powerful elite.

  2. We can’t possibly know everything about everything. Only President Trump, by his own admission, knows more about everything than the experts. That being the case, rather than re-invent the wheel, we have to rely on SOME information gleaned by others. It only makes sense to avail oneself of the expertise which has been hard won. And especially science is self-correcting in the long run. But scientists, being human, can also make mistakes. Luckily there usually is someone who is waiting in the wings to test their results and as you say, prove them wrong or verify their results.

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