It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Friday, February 26, 2010

How It's Done

This via The Economist, via Deltoid:
For example, a week ago Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, gave an interview to the BBC that was widely described as a debacle. The main reason was that the BBC reporter asked Mr Jones whether he would concede that global warming since 1995 has not been statistically significant. Mr Jones replied: "Yes, but only just," and went on to note that there was a measured global warming of 0.12°C per decade since then, and that it tends to be harder to get statistical significance out of shorter time samples.

This led to a Daily Mail headline reading: "Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995."

Since I've advocated a more explicit use of the word "lie", I'll go ahead and follow my own advice: that Daily Mail headline is a lie. Phil Jones did not say there had been no global warming since 1995; he said the opposite. He said the world had been warming at 0.12°C per decade since 1995. However, over that time frame, he could not quite rule out at the traditional 95% confidence level that the warming since 1995 had not been a random fluke.

Anyone who has even a passing high-school familiarity with statistics should understand the difference between these two statements.
See, Mr. Yulsman, Mr. Kloor, that is how to do it.

Also, the Economist article quotes a commenter lamenting:
Rather than 'taking a stance', newspapers should do [a] better job of describing the nuances of scientific findings. I know I'm being delusional, though. I mean, how many science/engineering graduates go into journalism?
I see no reason in principle why people trained in science should not do journalism.

In practice, the jobs have always been better in science, of course, even though working conditions in both areas have been in rapid decline of late. In terms of value added to society, though, it seems to me that journalism has enormous economic importance. If there were a reliable way for journalists to capture a fraction of their added value, science and technology journalism would be practiced by people with substantial training in their subject areas.


John F. Pittman said...

MT I think engineers and other scientists are going into journalism. They are on blogs. You, me, Lucia, JeffID, Steve McI, Joe Romm, etc. In fact even though you and I disagree on many issues, at least you can get to the detail such that we can consider our diferences. How do you do that with such poorly written crap? But to me it is a bit of sour grapes on the AGW side. For years, the lie or misdirection of alarmism without the discussion and caveats that you and I have had, has been the rage for MSM. Becuase as a professional I have to deal with such issues, two lessons that are taught need to be learned by climate scientists. 1.) A politicain can help you as no other can, but will turn on you quicker than a rabid dog, becuase a politician without votes, is like a coach without wins: unemployed. 2.) Traditional press sells stories, they are not nuetral; do not confuse good press with good ethics.

If you keep these two rules in mind, you will be better prepared to understand and deal with issues.

Frank Bi said...

John F. Pittman:

"MT I think engineers and other scientists are going into journalism. They are on blogs. You, me, Lucia, JeffID, Steve McI, Joe Romm, etc."

Duh. In short, you're saying that "engineers and other scientists" are already going into "journalism", because you just redefined "journalism" to include writing fact-free opinion on blogs, and "engineers and other scientists" to include, well, people with no known scientific training writing fact-free opinion on blogs.

"Traditional press sells stories, they are not nuetral"

And blogs are better in what sense exactly? Admit it: even without the $$$ factor, there's still an incentive for bloggers to pump out stories and play to their audience -- if you pump out more stories, then in the distorted world of Google News and Google Blogs and what not, it means you have a greater 'say' in things, even if what you 'say' is nonsense.


"I see no reason in principle why people trained in science should not do journalism."

I think the problem with getting science-trained people to do journal, to better describe "the nuances of scientific findings", is that it's not terribly exciting. If you have the necessary scientific background to understand cutting-edge research, will you actually prefer to contribute directly to the research (or engineering) yourself, or to merely describe what other people are doing in their research?

So we're essentially stuck in a situation where people who describe things tend to not know squat about the things they describe, and I'm not sure what's the best way out of this.

-- bi

Michael Tobis said...

Unpaid blogging, however ill-informed, is not sufficient to replace paid journalism, because some things are inherently complex, and some things are deliberately obfuscated.

But it's easier to find scientists who can write than journalists who can understand complex or technically obfuscated questions.

Pick the best potential scientist among a hundred trained journalists and pick the best potential journalist among a hundred trained scientists. Of the two, whose report on a technical question would you prefer? Whose efforts would you actually pay for?

As long as nobody gets paid, things will get distorted and hidden. That much is true. But it seems that the whole mass-oriented media culture is determined to prevent the small but important fraction of people who actually want to know what is going on to have a way to do so.

Journalism seems to be about force-feeding trivialities to ignorant masses while ignoring those genuinely willing and capable in lending their wits to sensible governance.

Now that push journalism is dying for anyone under seventy, we are left with no investigative traditions at all. I think blogs have much to tell us about how this will go. But they are not enough.

David B. Benson said...

Well, there is still The Nation.

John F. Pittman said...

MT I hope you don't mind me responding to Frank Bi a bit. Frank, those I mentioned all have science degrees, and I do include stats in this case because much of climatology, as do many other hard sciences, depend on stats. Though I have a different opinion than Romm or MT, does not change the fact that they, as the others, address nuanced discussions with facts. They are not fact free as you indicated. Your idea of journalism is somewhat limited. I did not redefine it. It may be unpaid, but it is a form of journalism What the blogs are better at, and this is true of those whose position is different from mine is that they are professionals writing in their area(s) of expertise. Though some are more expert than others, the quality and the facts and nuances are better. I don't judge by google news. I find MT's articles worth reading because they are. As for the situation we find ourselves in, that will not change unless our form of government changes. Most of today's major players are either representative democracies or technocratic states. Input from the governed will occur. Best make sure they are educated