My Mother, My Manager, And God…

July 24th, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, onanism | 45 Comments »

I thought some of you might like to know that Don’t Dumb Me Down has, rather improbably in some respects, won “Best Feature” at the Science Writers Awards (£2,000 and I got to meet Attenborough! Nice!).

And the week before, I got “Best Freelancer 2006″ at the Medical Journalism Awards (£500. I mention these figures in the name of transparency, but more importantly the MJA award is voted for by Medical Journalists Association members).

When I started writing Bad Science [start moving classical music here] me and my friends thought we were the only ones who got annoyed by the stuff that gets in the column.

Anyway, my mother hasn’t been so proud since I got RSM Grade 5 Tuba in 1989, and anyone particularly eagle-eyed will notice that I am wearing exactly the same stripedshirt/palebluesuit combo to every single awards night, including the other ABSW one from 2003, which I’ve posted at the bottom for comparison.

This was a coincidence, but it is now my lucky blue romper outfit.

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ben goldacre mja 2006

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ben goldacre

:

ben goldacre absw 2003

I do not get a prize for knowing how to size images.


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If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

45 Responses



  1. Kess said,

    July 24, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    Congratulations. Nice looking trophy too.

    So the drinks are on Ben – you name the pub, we’ll all see you down there!

  2. Sid said,

    July 24, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    With two Guardian editors on the panel, how could you not win something? Fnar, fnar!

  3. AitchJay said,

    July 24, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    Congratulations mate!

    I’ll have to go back and read that one again..

    Are these events really dull or something? There are only 1/3 of the people photographed showing any teeth when they smile.

  4. superburger said,

    July 24, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    congrats,

    Is there a photo of you holding your tuba grade 5 certificate available?

    filing under onanism…so modest.

  5. DaveF said,

    July 24, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Forget the blushes and the cynicism of others (though you could forget the outfit) – nice to know that there are awards that actually recognise real achievement and integrity and not just luvvies massaging each other’s bums. But yeah, which pub?

  6. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 24, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    heh, i’d love to go to the pub, but i am paralysed with procrastination finishing this book and barely seeing daylight. a bit more time fell into my lap and i foolishly decided to increase the remit of a couple of bits, but i am very badly disciplined about this kind of thing. there is a reason why i write short columns.

    one thing i’ll definitely do is organise a film night, hopefully at the bloomsbury theatre when term starts again, got some great bad science themed stuff together…

  7. JohnD said,

    July 24, 2006 at 8:40 pm

    Onanism? Hell, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

    Congratulations!
    John

  8. BobP said,

    July 24, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    Keep it up!

    One of these days, someone will offer you an honorary degree (Guardian, 6 July education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,1813798,00.html ). Will you pass it on to Henrietta?

  9. Nurn said,

    July 24, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    Hey well done Ben! You seem to be able to crop the photos correctly.

    Saw the one in the Guardian which gives the “are we nearly there yet” formula — taking into account almost everything except the ages of the children. How much more likely is a four-year-old to ask that question than a 10, 11, 12, 13 year old?

    Anyway, not relevant. Good onya!

  10. maibee said,

    July 24, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Price per wear – it’s how I justify spending too much money on clothes. For instance, a £5 shirt from Primark worn once is actually worse value for money than a £50 one from Some Expensive Shop worn 50 times.

    So well done, Ben. I figure, with your prize money you can now buy another suit and possibly a new shirt too and wear them to the next 100 award ceremonies without any guilt about making such an investment.

  11. Frank said,

    July 25, 2006 at 7:16 am

    Congratulations, I hoped you bilked as much free wine as possible.

  12. Kells said,

    July 25, 2006 at 9:22 am

    Awards Money Free wine – can’t you see ‘they’ (multinats, greedy capitalists and any other establisments you care to mention) are just trying to buy you? Look what happened to Prescott? Where is the left wing working class socialist now?

    Onlyjoking………congratulations. Its nice to know you are being noticed.

  13. f:lux said,

    July 25, 2006 at 9:59 am

    Tack my congratulations to everyone else’s and add virtual bevy of choice.

    And, well, I’m sort of surprised by the photos above. Because the close up eye picture that illustrates your(DrG’s) posts on the forum, for some reason had me convinced you had no hair. At all. I’m in shock.

  14. john barleycorn said,

    July 25, 2006 at 10:22 am

    “me and my friends” ? Good God boy, GRAMMAR!

    Congratulations from an arts grad :)

  15. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 25, 2006 at 10:32 am

    it’s interesting, isn’t it: “me and my friends” has become such a commonplace construction as a subject that if anyone says “my friends and i” it makes them sound like they’ve got a rod up their arse.

  16. terry hamblin said,

    July 25, 2006 at 10:51 am

    Of course, you metropolitan fellows will continue to monkey around with the Queens’s English. It was ever so. Even Jane Austen notices how far behind the fashion we country bumpkins fall, although in those days it was Bath that led the way and we called it the King’s English then. Nevertheless, rod up your arse or no, do try to be as correct in your grammar as you are in your science. Goodness! You will be saying, “Between you and I,” next.

    However, I do congratulate you on your award, made doubly valuable because you are not afraid to criticise your own employers.

    By the way, is that your award in your left hand in the second picture? It looks suspiciously like a lava lamp.

  17. Teek said,

    July 25, 2006 at 11:21 am

    many congrats Ben – rickly deserved.

    oh, and how’s the book looking…? Pulitzer material i’m sure, if these awards are anything to go by…!!

  18. stever said,

    July 25, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    haha. you nob.

    no, seriously – well done. thats a result, and 2k is better than a kick in the nuts.

    youve found a niche, exploited it brilliantly, and now getting your reward.

    *awaits pint*

  19. Homestar said,

    July 25, 2006 at 7:52 pm

    Congratulations Ben!

    That article was your first that I ever read, and I’ve been a regular at badscience ever since. I’m going to set it as required reading for my students next year (seriously!)

    Glad you got the moolah you deserve

  20. raygirvan said,

    July 25, 2006 at 8:23 pm

    Excellent: well done.

  21. jamesdj said,

    July 25, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    Dear Ben,

    As an admirer of your website and its motives I feel that you have rather neglected the subject of GM and organic foods (although you did once mention that you liked organic foods – or more accuraltey liked the idea of organic foods. An error that fact and time will eradicate).

    Meanwhile I have just sent the following letter to the Guardian after reading the prejudiced and unbalanced letter from Ms Lucas and Oxbarrow for the Green part y and FOE respectivley. I hope that my reply will be published in some acceptable form but have no doubt that it will not. It goes against the Guardian ethic too strongly. As a retired scientist I do have most of the facts at my disposal to back up my statements which is always a lot more than the humanities graduates from the NGO’s do. In fact its a scientific fact that there is more than an 80% chance that MS Lucas and Oxbarrow were in fact wearing GM cotton knickers when they wrote their letter.

    Here is their published letters and my, so far, unpublished reply.

    ___________________________________________________________
    Public betrayed over GM crops

    July 24, 2006

    By admitting there can be no “safe” buffer between GM and non-GM crops, but giving GM the all clear (Report, July 21), New Labour has yet again ignored a clear weight of public opinion and led us down a dangerous path. Growing GM crops is bad for biodiversity and may pose a direct threat to human and wildlife health too. Millions in the UK just don’t want to take the chance. And if GM farmers can’t prevent the cross-contamination of neighbouring non-GM crops, then the commercial planting of GM crops spells the end for the booming UK organic industry, and will massively increase the demand for truly organic imports.

    Just what was the point of holding the “GM nation” public consultation in 2003 if it is now going to ignore the clear result: that the majority were opposed to the growing of GM crops in the UK and that only 2% of people said they would be happy to eat GM produce. If the government allows commercial planting of GM crops it will be a subversion of democracy.

    Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, Green, South-East England

    The government says that it is acceptable for conventional and organic crops to contain 0.9% of GM material. This is the maximum “accidental” contamination allowed in food under EU GM labelling rules. If this level is exceeded, food must carry a GM label. But what is accidental? An independent legal opinion obtained by Friends of the Earth and other groups last year says that if coexistence measures are designed to allow routine GM contamination of crops of up to 0.9%, you are in fact planning to contaminate. If this is the case, then farmers would have to label the crop as GM.
    Clare Oxborrow, Food campaigner, Friends of the Earth

    ===============
    DJ James reply sent to the Guardian 25 July 2006

    GM crops and percentages

    With reference to the letters by Ms Lucas and MsOxbarrow (July 24 Public betrayed over GM crops) I feel in the interests of balance and accuracy some correction is due. On crop separation distances high and low erucic acid non GM oil seed rape have been grown apart for many years around the world. Significant contamination of one by the other would pose a known threat to human health. However the distances employed have ensured negligible contamination over many years. Using the same strategy the same would be true of GM oil seed rape or any other crop.

    On health and safety of GM crops the BMA and the Royal Society have both recently said they ‘share the view that that there is no robust evidence to prove that GM foods are unsafe’. Compare this with the widespread and approved use of the earth worm killing, mammalian liver toxin, copper, by organic farmers on fruit and vegetables. Copper is a proven medical threat to the health of consumers but it’s still used because it’s the only effective fungicide for fruit and vegetables in the organic rule book.

    On biodiversity surely Ms Lucas and Oxbarrow must realise that ALL forms of farming reduce biodiversity and that includes organic farming. In fact no till or reduced tillage is acknowledged amongst agricultural and environmental scientists to be the least damaging of all forms of farming. Organic is no better than conventional when it comes to damage from ploughing and accompanied CO2 emissions. It must also be recognised that almost all organic and conventionally produced food crops have emerged over the last 40 years from mutation breeding programmes and/or the application of chromosome doubling chemicals. How would this affect people’s perception of organic food if this was widely realised?

    Ms Lucas also has troubles with percentages. She claims that only 2% of the public would eat GM food. I don’t know where Ms Lucas gets her figure from but in the latest 2003 survey carried out by the independent IGD Consumer Watch 13% of respondents said they would eat GM foods, 13% said they wouldn’t if it was labelled and the rest professed not to read the labels anyway. If 1% is booming for the organic food industry what is 13% going to be? In fact the ‘booming’ organic industry show that sales of organic food are about £1billion in the UK (NFU official figures). The total retail sales of all UK food is £112billion, so the organic share is barely 1%. Is this booming? It’s difficult to get excited about 1% of anything unless its Bill Gates personal fortune. However I suppose 1% is a lot to Ms Lucas who would dearly love to have 1% of seats in the House of Commons won by the Green Party. It’s certainly bigger than the 0% at the moment. It is also relevant for Ms Lucas that in the 2002 independent, socially adjusted Mori poll the public trusted on average 64% of all scientists to tell the truth whereas only 19% trusted politicians, – and that includes the Green Party.

    David James

    Retired UK government scientist (with zero past and present support from the biotech industry)

  22. Kimpatsu said,

    July 26, 2006 at 3:50 am

    Ha ha! Now that we knwo what you look like, Ben, there will be no escape. The evil witches are busy sticking pins into a remarkable effigy of you even as I write this!

  23. Melissa said,

    July 26, 2006 at 3:55 am

    Congratulations! These honors are well-deserved. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    Wish I could be there for the film night/pub crawl. Hugs all around!

  24. ACH said,

    July 26, 2006 at 7:52 am

    Congratulations on the award!

    Now tell us more about the tuba-playing.

  25. stever said,

    July 26, 2006 at 9:10 am

    jamesdj – for gods sake post that GM stuff in the forums section not in this completely unrelated thread which is reserved for goldacre trupmet blowing / arse kissing!

    (and by the way – your letter is far to long and rambling to get published)

  26. sockatume said,

    July 26, 2006 at 9:51 am

    Congratulations! Well-earned, I just re-read that article and it’s still fantastic.

  27. Dr Aust said,

    July 26, 2006 at 10:00 am

    Yeah, congrats O Great Scourge of the Mystificators.

    “Dumb me down” was a great piece, and required reading for anyone who gets their scientific info from the media.

    And you’re right, there are PLENTY of us grumpy sods out here, like Mrs Aust and myself, reading the Alt Health columns and fuming quietly over the cornflakes/muesli. Keep on sticking it to ‘em, we say.

    And I’m with Homestar, have told all my BSc and MBChB students to check out the column in search of a “wider education” in science and (perceived) reality.

  28. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 26, 2006 at 10:18 am

    And I’m with Homestar, have told all my BSc and MBChB students to check out the column in search of a “wider education” in science and (perceived) reality.

    it’s definitely a part work isn’t it, individually the stories aren’t very blockbusting but all together they paint a pretty damning picture.

  29. Dr Aust said,

    July 26, 2006 at 11:06 am

    It’s two separate things really:

    First is the extent to which people in the wide world buy bits of Alt bogus-osity, even quite smart/sensible people (forums passim)

    Second is the “slippage” in even vaguely serious media coverage of science/medical issues, leading to even the people who WANT to be informed being misinformed.

    Pretty convinced that both ought to be part of medical/science education at Univ level.

  30. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 26, 2006 at 11:18 am

    yup. people discuss this endlessly in the dreary world of “public engagement with science”, make extraordinarily optimistic assertions like “we should make the media behave better” or “give them some guidelines to ignore”, and the amusing “scientists need to be better communicators and police each other” as if anyone here can somehow do anything to stop, i dont know, krigsman in america from making more of his claims on unpublished research about MMR.

    i think the solution to the bad behaviour of the media with sci/health is simply to keep pointing out the problem over and over again, with examples, there is no other realistic intervention. this will either have a panopticon effect (i wish) or undermine public confidence to the point where what they say doesn’t matter.

    doctors now simply expect that what’s in papers on sci/health will be nonsense, a “breakthrough” that patients will rightly be hopeful of is ten years away and lab only, a “scare” is almost a fraud, and so on: this unfortunately places a communication barrier between doctors and patients (and you have to wonder if it in turn causes some of the frustration and anger that papers show towards docs and scientists).

  31. JQH said,

    July 26, 2006 at 12:07 pm

    Congrats on the award. When’s the book coming out? Keep us posted on the time & venue of the booze-up/film night.

  32. Dr Aust said,

    July 26, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    “yup. people discuss this endlessly in the dreary world of “public engagement with science”, make extraordinarily optimistic assertions like “we should make the media behave better” or “give them some guidelines to ignore”, and the amusing “scientists need to be better communicators and police each other” as if anyone here can somehow do anything to stop, i dont know, krigsman in america from making more of his claims on unpublished research about MMR”

    People like Krigsman are a separate issue, I think – as you say, they are so far outside the mainstream that they are unpoliceable by science in any way other than attempted rebuttal.

    In the mainstream, problem with this “policing” idea is that journalists in the UK want “stories” -not boring Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung or Washington Post earnest-but-dull style detailed exposition.

    AND…people who do research, both individually and institutionally, have a vested interest in “positive coverage” – however hyped. All Univs and research institutes (and NHS Hospital Trusts) have PR people (my Univ Faculty has one) to place / promote stories which are almost all “Breakthrough!” – this is what the local and national papers want , and Univs want to promote themselves in the public eye. You can blame the funding game for a lot of this – Univs and individual Drs and scientists compete for scarce funds to do research – generating a “buzz” is viewed as helpful, see e.g. embryonic stems cells, or gene therapy for the last 10 yrs.

    The net result, I agree, is that people become a bit cynical – not just the practitioners, but the public too. For instance, in my own field, the cloning of the cystic fibrosis gene in 1989 was accompanied by barrowloads of hype and razmatazz, “cure within ten yrs” etc etc. Seventeen yrs later, we know a lot more about the CF protein, but the increase in life expectancy for the sufferers has been next to bugger all, there is little or no “new” therapy, and no sight of a cure. The CF charities have spent millions funding research into gene therapy, but don’t expect a cure that way in the next 10 yrs, if ever.

    Think science/medical stories need to emphasise what we can do NOW, and how/why it works, rather than promising space-age cures.

    .

  33. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 26, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    AND…people who do research, both individually and institutionally, have a vested interest in “positive coverage” – however hyped. All Univs and research institutes (and NHS Hospital Trusts) have PR people (my Univ Faculty has one) to place / promote stories which are almost all “Breakthrough!” – this is what the local and national papers want , and Univs want to promote themselves in the public eye.

    not being a science journalist its hard for me to know if this is true, since i dont go to science press conferences where this happens, and its obviously not possible to tell from a finished hyped article where the hype came from. people often say that academics hype studies, but when i’ve asked for specific examples, they’re not forthcoming. i really am all ears for a press release that overclaims, or a recording of a press conference where somebody overclaims, anything like that, it would be really interesting to nail this one down, if it’s true.

  34. Dr Aust said,

    July 26, 2006 at 4:54 pm

    Hmmm….

    I was involved a couple of years back in picking a PR company to “sell” the annual scientific meeting of one of the UK’s learned societies. A University Chief PR person advising us told us emphatically that the big “pitch” message had to be in the first line of the press release, as the national science journos got 50+ press releases a day and would only read the frst line.

    Cue lots of releases along the lines of:

    “Scientists at the XYZ conf reported a key breakthrough in the hunt for a cure for ABC.”

    As for a real example: how about this – not quite what you asked for but an interesting example of a story growing in the telling, with help from its authors.:

    In Autumn 2004 the British Medical Journal published a study suggesting there was no long-term clinical benefit from “standard NHS physiotherapy” for back pain [1]. The study had a number of shortcomings, as discussed in an accompanying editorial [2] and in various responses [3]. Inter alia, patients reported some benefit early on, may have got back to work earlier, actual interventions used varied, “back specialist” physio may be better and useful, etc.

    The BMJ ran the story under the inside front page “trailer” headline: “Physiotherapy for back pain no better than advice”

    The story was then picked up by most of the nationals and the BBC and widely quoted – e.g. in the Times under the headline: “Physiotherapy ‘is no better than a chat on back pain” [4]. The piece I read at the time was Sarah Boseley’s in The Guardian, under the title ” Physiotherapy doesn’t work for back pain, study says” [5].

    What really caught my eye in the Guardian piece were the quotes from the senior author of the study, a Professor of Public Health, no less:

    “I think one can draw the conclusion that physiotherapy that is routinely offered in the NHS for lower back pain of mild to moderate severity doesn’t do any good,”

    Well, OK, that was what the study interpreted the data to mean, fair enough, but note the lack of any caveats, and “doesn’t do any good” is not quite accurate from the study -”doesn’t give measurable long-term improvements”, maybe..

    And then:

    “If I had back pain I wouldn’t want to spend my time going for NHS physiotherapy. You are wasting your time. It isn’t going to help you.”

    Which strikes me as a major overstatement (putting it mildly) based on the study. Irresponsible? You decide.

    The same author was interviewed on Radio 4, I think, and was quoted in a story on BBC news as saying:

    “…knowing what I know, I would not go to a physiotherapist if I had back pain”

    Which is a personal view, agreed, but the conclusion that punters with back pain listening were likely to draw from this is pretty obvious. Anyone mention single jabs?

    Anyway, to me this was an author helping hype the story along.

    It would be interesting to know whether the BMJ issued a press release to the health journalists, and what was in it.

    1. BMJ 2004;329:708 (25 September), bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/reprint/329/7468/708
    2.BMJ 2004;329:694-695.
    bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/329/7468/694
    3. Rapid responses:
    bmj.bmjjournals.com/cgi/eletters/329/7468/708
    4.www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,8122-1277800,00.html
    5.www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1311694,00.html
    6. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3684096.stm

  35. Dr Aust said,

    July 26, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Sorry that last one was so long… mainly that I nearly wrote to “Bad Science” about that one at the time, drafted something, but was overtaken by inertia.

    Anyway, now it is back in my front-one-bit of memory may adapt it to be a “case study” for the course on “science journalism” we are thinking of running for our B.Sc. science students.

  36. superburger said,

    July 26, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    how do science stories get into the press? I mean, if I hit on something truly massive my response would be, let’s get it published in Science / Nature / Cell with a editorial singing my praises. I don’t think my instinct would be ‘let’s see if the guardian / mail / angling times are interested.’

    Apart from the obvious self publicisits (krigsman, wakefield et al) are there scientists who tout the ir work to the papers? Or do they rely on university or insitution PR people to do the dirty work. There was a badscience article about Cardiff Univ doing exactly that was there not?

    I imagine that if a science journo came to the lab and asked about my work it would be pretty easy to distrort my comments and make it seem like ‘breakthroughs’ has been achieved.

    Is there a basic incompatibility between accuare reporting of scientific progress and the buisness models of national newspapers?

  37. Ben Goldacre said,

    July 26, 2006 at 6:39 pm

    journals send out press releases, they’re usually fairly tame from what i’ve seen.

    like i said, i’m often told that scientists over sell their research to the press, i bet there are examples, but none of the people who say they see it all the time from respected academics has actually sent an example my way. its more than likely they have much better things to do than humour me.

    eurekalert is a rolling service, used a lot by journalists from what i understand, anyone can read it:

    www.eurekalert.org/

    here’s the medical one, loads of stuff from the big medical journals:

    www.eurekalert.org/bysubject/medicine.php

  38. superburger said,

    July 26, 2006 at 7:04 pm

    I had a look at eurekalert – that’s pretty cool.

    Having looked at the press releases for the kind of stuff I understand the most, i would say that most of the press releases aren’t too hysterical.

    but, there were few links the actual journal articles where these results were published, and my instinct on reading these relseases is to want to see the papers.

    Even then, the effort involved in reading up on a new body of work enough to be able to judge the importance of the results summarised in the press release is appreciable. And that’s just in a field I’m confident enough to attempt to understand.

    What if you didn’t have a science background? I know precisley Eff All about financial matters (apart from my overdraft) I don’t think I’d have the balls to write about the stock market just based on press releases. It must be pretty tough to be a humanties grad writing the science pages……

    my assumption then, it that a lot of science journos take press releases at face value and ‘sex them up’ to please thier editors. Or is that a disservice to journalism?

  39. ayupmeduck said,

    July 26, 2006 at 7:55 pm

    Stop the seriousness for while already! This is Bens moment of glory.

    Nice work Ben, more glory lies ahead I’m sure.

  40. mushy said,

    July 26, 2006 at 8:26 pm

    You horrible bastard – I had always hoped you were ugly.

    Well done, big man – keep fighting the good fight.

  41. Dr* T said,

    July 26, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    I knew it was you before I read the blurb – I’d recognise that EYE anywhere…;)

    Well done – I have extolled the articles/website to many colleagues/friends and it has always met with complete approval. There are a lot of people on your wavelength.

    T

  42. tomh said,

    July 27, 2006 at 2:18 am

    Hm, I can remember my brother always commenting that all the science stories the BBC do seemed to come form the New Scientist magazine – doesn’t seem to be as true now, perhaps they have found other similar sources. One thing is for sure, I bet they never read the whole paper, or attend the full conference… (might be wrong there).

    p.s. you deserved the awards

  43. Dr Aust said,

    July 27, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Yes, sorry for cluttering up the Praise with grumpy-old-gittery

    Last couple of comments on this subject before I retreat to my natural grumpy old git (GOG) home on the Forums:

    1. Ben wrote: I think the solution to the bad behaviour of the media with sci/health is simply to keep pointing out the problem over and over again, with examples, there is no other realistic intervention.

    Agree 100% on this one, which is why Bad Science is so important – esp. in the face of SO MANY Alt-themed health columns (do we know a paper that DOESN’T have one?)

    2. Superburger wrote: Imagine that if a science journo came to the lab and asked about my work it would be pretty easy to distrort my comments and make it seem like ‘breakthroughs’ has been achieved.

    In my experience, when the interviewers are print journalists (typically local paper) the “breakthrough-ism” almost invariably comes from them.

    3. Ben wrote: i’m often told that scientists over sell their research to the press, i bet there are examples, but none of the people who say they see it all the time from respected academics has actually sent an example my way. its more than likely they have much better things to do than humour me.

    Other reasons: one is that it is viewed as understandable, though not particularly admirable. One FRS I know, when we were discussing this, just shrugged and said “well, it’s just grant talk” (i.e. “talking up” the importance of your field, rather than your work personally, to make sure it gets a fair share of the funding pie).

    Another problem is that it can usually be defended as “the need to give a simple clear message”. It is not so much that the scientists themselves grossly exaggerate / over-sell when interviewed. It is more that either:

    (i) they leave out all the “yes, but…”s (this can also reflect the journalistic / editing process)
    (ii) the journalist/reporter gives the “over-sold” message and the scientist agrees;
    (iii) the expert delivers a personal opinion, but in the context of the story and the editing it comes over as an authoritative comment

    So it would be difficult to demonstrate “INTENT to over-sell” as it were..

  44. David Mingay said,

    August 1, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Congratulations! Have a drink on me. In fact, make it a homeopathic one. And in that case, make it a double!

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