Editors and Science Reporting

ScienceBlogling Jessica Palmer notes that editors are an overlooked, but critical component of science reporting (italics original):

…the recent debate about scientists vs. science journalists as communicators obscures the fact that many mistakes don’t originate with either the scientist or the journalist, but with editors and others involved in the publication process.
….It all comes back to the editors, doesn’t it? Regrettably, in discussions of the mainstream media process and how to improve science journalism, editors and other staff are often overlooked. But although it’s necessary to have both scientists who can communicate effectively and journalists who can understand and explain the science, it’s not sufficient. You also need an editorial team who won’t screw the whole thing up!

I’ve had first hand experience with this problem:

Anyway, even if the reporter does everything right, editors can hack out or change the story to the point where the end result doesn’t bear much relationship to anything you said. More importantly, unlike the reporters who have done the research, editors often don’t understand the science, and make really bad editorial decisions. Decisions that can make me look like a jackass.

(granted, I’m quite capable of looking like a jackass all by my wee lonesome, but I certainly don’t need help either)
We do need better editors and publication processes. Now go read Jessica.

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2 Responses to Editors and Science Reporting

  1. KAT says:

    Just like a crazy someone we both used to work for… 😉

  2. Chris Clarke says:

    That’s true enough, but you’ve got the solution backwards.
    We don’t need editors who are just informed enough not to screw things up. We need editors who are expert enough to catch errors made by the reporters. That way each hour of education improves the reporting of more than one journalist.

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