Kloor, Randy Olson and to an extent Andy Revkin, but a whole lot of other people appear to think that scientists are lousy communicators, and indeed, a whole lot of scientists agree and there are workshops, meetings and even, shudder, blogs, devoted to self improvement, or not. This goes into the file under missing the point.
It's not that scientists are or are not lousy communicators (say that and Eli will lock you in a room with Richard Alley for example), but that journalists are lousy communicators. It's their fucking (emphasis added) job and they are screwing it up to a fare-thee-well. It ain't just climate either. What journalists produce often makes the average cut and paste student paper blush with modesty
As described in the Columbia Journalism Review, a new site churnalism.com lets you track down some of the mal mots.
If you wondered why every piece of crazy gets its day in the headlines here is one answer, the churnalists walking, nay sitting on their butts and printing everything that is spoon fed to them without working (shudder) to figure out whether there is any there there. There are lovely examples recently, the collapsing arsenic eating microbe story, the even faster collapsing bacteria in a meteor story, the stuff about vaccines causing autism, which STILL ten years later, after being shown conclusively to be a fraud, endures.
Churnalism has been around a long while. Back in the 1920s Edward Bernays was writing about “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses” as an “important element in democratic society.” In the 1950s Vance Packard warned us about “the large scale efforts being made, often with impressive success, to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions and our thought processes,” typically “beneath our level of awareness.”
But its power and extent have grown. In the U.S. and U.K. there are now more PR people than journalists. The PR industries in these two countries are numbers one and two in the world in terms of size. In the U.K., PR accounts for over £6.5 billion in revenues. PR is, in the words of Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy, “faster growing, better paid and better resourced” than journalism. “Like it or loathe it, PR has become a key ingredient in many of our lives.”
Churnalism.com, Turn It In for the scribbling generation.
But churnalism is not just copy and paste, it's churn for effect and to hell with understanding.
At root, churnalism is an abdication of responsibility and moral failing worn proudly by an entire profession.
The reply that the churnalists have earned, is do your effing job asshole.
Still, give them credit, some do try to do the job, John Fleck has turned to in depth blogging on water issues, Tom Yulsman has an interesting post on how CO2 concentrations are measured. Andy Revkin is trying to figure it out. Not everything they do, or Eli does, is perfect, but at least they try, which is more than the bunnies can say about most.