“I am always disappointed by the media coverage on my research area.”

Faye Flam gets upset that some obviously conceptual charts are not labelled as such in a post at Poynter.

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I have no problem with conceptual graphs like this, though it’s probably a best practice to label them as such.

This one is useful because it tries to articulate the varied incentives of scientists, journalists, and readers.  What’s most amusing is that the chart reveals several key assumptions of the Swedish physicist Sabine Hossenfelder who created it:

1.  The optimal amount of “accuracy” wanted by readers is 0!

2.  Both scientists and journalists are willing to sacrifice accuracy in order to get press attention.  Scientists – of course – have the purest motives of anyone depicted on the graph, showing a greater willingness to sacrifice readers for greater accuracy.

3.  There’s an inverse correlation between accuracy and readership.  As Flam notes, there are probably lots of cases in which there isn’t such a straightforward trade-off between these two variables.  This relationship could vary by scientific field, by type of study, by type of media outlet…or even by the skill level of the science writer.

4.  If we’re letting the scientist define accuracy, then it’s likely going to reflect whatever concerns they have about getting funding or scoring points against the folks who disagree with them.

 

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