Illustrating The Point

Steven Connor, Science Editor of the Independent, spectacularly missed the point with this opinion piece, not to mention confirming many peoples suspicions as to the state of science journalism today.

Many bloggers have criticised print journalists for their lack of fact checking. Let us see how well Connor does in this piece:

1. He refers to the organisers of a fringe event as “Lofty Medics”. In fact only Ben Goldacre is a medical doctor.

2. In the piece (dated 30 June 2009) he says that the “medics met in a pub last night”. In fact the event was due to take place tonight (1 July).

Quite basic facts which would have been easy to check. Then he wonders why Ben Goldacre refers to mainstream media’s science coverage as being lazy and silly – amongst other things.

Clearly he disagrees with Ben but rather than present evidence which undermines Ben’s position, he goes for the ad hom attack:

“All three speakers are gainfully employed by the public sector so they don’t actually have to worry too much about the sort of pressures and financial constraints the mainstream media are under.”

Which is not only irrelevent but untrue into the bargain. Perhaps he’s missed all the stories about various drugs not being available to patients in certain areas due to budgetry constraints on the local Primary Care Trusts. If so, it does not say much about his background knowledge. And is he really using financial constraints as an excuse for those members of his profession who publish misleading scare stories and outright lies? If so, he is condemning his own profession rather than that of his critics.

He continues:

“But their arrogance is not new. Medical doctors in particular have always had a lofty attitude to the media’s coverage of their profession, stemming no doubt from the God-like stance they take towards their patients.”

A rather out-dated stereotype there. Normally found only in the imagination of antivaxxers and homeopaths. Both of these groups, incidently, have had a lot of positive uncritical attention from the mainstream media. Which is why some consider its science coverage to be misleading and dangerous.

As for arrogance, what about:

“The sixth World Conference of Science Journalists is underway in London. I can’t say it’s going to change my life, as I missed out on the previous five…”

A man who misses out on major conferences of his profession, with the implication that they have nothing to teach him, is in no position to lecture others about arrogance.

In fact, his evident belief that he has nothing to learn, combined with his not checking even the most basic facts and his preference for personal attacks rather than examining the evidence, constitute a perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with mainstream science coverage.


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