We’re having a meeting in a pub tonight, it’s free to get in and open to all, we’ll talk about the problems with science journalism. Apparently science journalists won’t tolerate this.
Steve Connor: Lofty medics should stick to their day job
Science Notebook: Doctors claim media coverage is “lazy, venal and silly”
Independent, Tuesday, 30 June 2009
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, but I did notice that it has attracted the attention of a bunch of medics with strong views on the state of science journalism today.
“A few of us felt they were might [sic] not adequately address some of the key problems in their profession, which has deteriorated to the point where they present a serious danger to public health,” according to the Bad Science website of Dr Ben Goldacre, who is turning into the bête noir of science journalists. The medics met in a pub in London last night to explain why the “mainstream media’s science coverage is broken, misleading, dangerous, lazy, venal and silly”. 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. But they nevertheless condescended to offer some advice on the sort of “best practice guidelines” I should be following, for which I suppose I should be eternally grateful.
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. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say their profession is broken, dangerous, lazy, venal and silly – not yet anyway.
Interested to see if they publish our brief letter.
Your science journalist Steve Connor is furious that we are holding a small public meeting in a pub to discuss the problem that science journalists are often lazy and inaccurate. He gets the date wrong, claiming the meeting has already happened (it has not). He says we are three medics (only one of us is). He then invokes some stereotypes about arrogant doctors, which we hope are becoming outdated.
In fact, all three of us believe passionately in empowering patients, with good quality information, so they can make their own decisions about their health. People often rely on the media for this kind of information. Sadly, in the field of science and medicine, on subjects as diverse as MMR, sexual health, and cancer prevention, the public have been repeatedly and systematically misled by journalists.
We now believe this poses a serious threat to public health, and it is sad to see the problem belittled in a serious newspaper. Steve Connor is very welcome to attend our meeting, which is free and open to all,
(Drs) Vaughan Bell, Petra Boynton, Ben Goldacre
It seems journalists have a lot in common with homeopaths when it comes to rage.
Just FYI really, my email to Guy Keleny, the letters editor at the Independent. I think it’s a shame that mainstream media are so intolerant of discussing these problems, and I really do think they’re serious. Oh well. Shame if they don’t print our letter though.
i think it would be good to print this letter from all three of us. we
all take the issue of misleading science and health reporting very
seriously, and feel passionately that patients and the public need to
be well informed to make good decisions about their own health.
unfortunately the media do often make serious errors in their coverage
of health and science, we don’t think it is unreasonable for us to
hold a small meeting in a pub to discuss this, and i think it’s part
of the problem that the profession of science journalism and
journalism generally are so unwilling to face up to the problems,
discuss them, and engage with criticisms.
a good example of that, sadly, was steve’s column which was, sadly,
repeatedly factually incorrect. it talked about a meeting that hadn’t
happened yet as if it had, it described us all as medics, which we’re
not, and it failed to address any of our concerns about the serious
negative impact that misleading reporting can have on public health. i
would have hoped that this is exactly the kind of social justice and
patient empowerment issue that the independent might take a serious
i should say i like steve’s work, although we’ve never met, and
there’s nothing personal about this, i just think it would be good if
you could correct on ther factual inaccuracies and give us the chance
to have a small say on such a serious issue by printing our letter.
i’m copying in petra boynton and vaughan bell, which i hope is ok,