Good Speech, but Bad Reporting

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  • #1
ZapperZ
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I probably shouldn't be too hard on this, because this is only a college newspaper. But still, the level of science "illiteracy" here is quite astounding for someone in college.

This is a http://www.ocolly.com/read_story.php?a_id=32045" [Broken] of a speech given by Frank Wilczek at, I believe, Oklahoma State University. Anyone who has attended one of Wilczek's talk would understand anyone being entralled by what is being presented. Still, this reporter obviously should have at least basic level chemistry, if not physics. There are just way too many unexpected errors and outright silliness in the report. It also means that the editor of this student newspaper is also science illiterate, since something like this could passed through without proper editing.

See how many strange things that you can spot in this news report.

If nothing else, this is a clear illustration why some schools in the US are beginning to have a multi-disciplinary field of studies, where students major in, let's say, science with emphasis on communcations. It is hoped that these students would have a good science background and then would go into journalism. This news report clearly show that the reporter can, at best, interpret what she saw and heard through her own understanding (or in this case, lack of understanding). Unfortunately, for the million of people who did not attend this lecture, such a news report is their only means of information about what was said. It clearly shows that in our popular media, the information that we get is actually "filtered through" the level of competency of the people who are reporting it. This is the one clear case where the reporter clearly didn't get what was being said, but how many others that we read that aren't as clear as this? How many people who rely on getting information were actually being steered in the wrong direction, or were given the wrong interpretation?

You need someone who has some level of competence to at least report something like this. Obviously, this student newspaper didn't have anyone with a science background to cover the story.

Zz.
 
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  • #2
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Forget college students, look at the pros. :yuck:

http://cbs2.com/topstories/local_story_052155509.html [Broken]
 
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  • #3
Kurdt
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Forget college students, look at the pros. :yuck:

http://cbs2.com/topstories/local_story_052155509.html [Broken]
You could have said check out the prose.
 
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  • #4
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You need someone who has some level of competence to at least report something like this. Obviously, this student newspaper didn't have anyone with a science background to cover the story.
Well yeah it's just the tip of the iceberg. People really don't care about quarks & I might add they can't really learn anything from a news article.
 
  • #5
Tom Mattson
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Quarks are my favorite molecules.
 
  • #6
turbo
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At least the student newspaper's editors should have such articles reviewed before publishing them. That was pretty pathetic - most of those mistakes and misinterpretations would not have made it past a reasonably bright HS student.
 
  • #7
Gokul43201
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Not only does that "reporter" display a giant hole in basic science knowledge, but also can't string a half-decent article together if her life depended upon it. I'm not sure if I am more troubled by the terrible science knowledge or the pathetic writing skills of the "journalist".
 
  • #8
ZapperZ
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I wonder if we have anyone here who goes to Oklahoma State? If there is, you could write a letter to the editor pointing out (i) the mistakes in the article (ii) how embarrassing it is for the school and newspaper, and (iii) they are being made fun of on PF!

:)

Zz.
 
  • #9
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Why don't WE write to the editor, directly ?
 
  • #10
BobG
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Not only does that "reporter" display a giant hole in basic science knowledge, but also can't string a half-decent article together if her life depended upon it. I'm not sure if I am more troubled by the terrible science knowledge or the pathetic writing skills of the "journalist".
I'm not sure she even spelled her name correctly.

At least this wasn't her http://www.ocolly.com/read_story.php?a_id=31904 [Broken]. She's versatile - from a parking lot to a Nobel Laureate in just two weeks! Or else the paper sees both stories as having equivalent significance.
 
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  • #11
Moonbear
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Not only does that "reporter" display a giant hole in basic science knowledge, but also can't string a half-decent article together if her life depended upon it. I'm not sure if I am more troubled by the terrible science knowledge or the pathetic writing skills of the "journalist".
Yes, one would hope that even if her science knowledge were completely lacking, that she could at least write well if she's interested in journalism. But, writing ability seems to be declining as badly as science knowledge.

Zz, maybe you should write a letter to the editor pointing out the more egregious errors. It would be a good lesson for everyone working on the paper to be more careful with their fact-checking. If they don't have the background to understand the talk well, that's no excuse for poor writing. The best approach would have been to contact Frank Wilczek and ask him to read it before publishing it if they had no sufficiently knowledgeable editor and that way allow him to correct any mistatements before they appeared in print. That would be responsible journalism, to go up to someone and say, "I'm writing a story on the talk you gave here last night, and would like to verify a few things for accuracy. Can I send you a draft to look over before I give it to my editor?"
 
  • #12
Yea, speaking as a high school student I can point out quite a few errors.

Every other paragraph is a sentence long, wowzah. The complexity of this persons sentence structure would be expected of someone in grade 7 or something. Hopefully it is just an odd case or something.

Her title was creative though... :tongue:
 
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  • #13
ZapperZ
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Zz, maybe you should write a letter to the editor pointing out the more egregious errors. It would be a good lesson for everyone working on the paper to be more careful with their fact-checking. If they don't have the background to understand the talk well, that's no excuse for poor writing.
Oklahoma State has its own physics dept. I think one would hope that someone there would at least write to the editor and point out all the mistakes and outright misconception that this person made, and what the editor let through. I think it would be a sad situation that someone else outside the school has to be the one pointing out such things.

Zz.
 
  • #14
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I fail anglish? Thats unpossible! -Ralph wiggum.
 
  • #15
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What this tells us is that popular lectures in physics should be about molecules, electromagnetism, heat, etc. We are 100 years away from giving coherent popular lectures on SR or basic QM...

Seriously, even quarks are too boring for the public, we need to entice them with string theory:yuck:
 
  • #16
BobG
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Unfortunately, for the million of people who did not attend this lecture, such a news report is their only means of information about what was said.
It's beside the point, but, actually, the article conveyed enough information to give a strong suspicion that the lecture was one of Wilczek's standards, which is available on video tape.

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/253/ [Broken]
 
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  • #17
Gokul43201
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Why don't WE write to the editor, directly ?
The newspaper's primary audience is its student body. They really don't care about the opinion of someone half-way across the country.
 
  • #18
DaveC426913
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The complexity of this persons sentence structure would be expected of someone in grade 7 or something.
I suspect that she tried to take notes during the lecture, but having no knowledge, she just wrote down bits that sounded like they might be important - she didn't grasp the nature and purpose of the lecture. Once she was done, she had a few scribbled quotes, and that was it. She had nothing to make a story out of. I suspect her journalistic skills are less to blame than her "fish understanding a bicycle"-ness.
 
  • #19
Math Is Hard
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What this tells us is that popular lectures in physics should be about molecules, electromagnetism, heat, etc. We are 100 years away from giving coherent popular lectures on SR or basic QM...

Seriously, even quarks are too boring for the public, we need to entice them with string theory:yuck:
Gokul once said something along those lines in a thread about the "What the Bleep" movie.

Gokul43201 said:
The general public does not need to know about quantum mechanics.

What the general public needs is lessons on doing elementary algebra; understanding what makes for a logical/scientific argument; learning what elements, compounds, atoms and molecules are; knowing that Africa is not a country and that Nigeria is;...I could go on.
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=54188

Hits the nail right on the head.
 
  • #20
Tom Mattson
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I fail anglish? Thats unpossible! -Ralph wiggum.
Poor Ralph obviously needed to be taught a wider variety of cromulent expressions.
 
  • #21
turbo
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We had an example of bad reporting in our local paper a few days ago. Someone who obviously had no familiarity with firearms did a story on a local HS rifle club and reported that the kids were shooting 22mm target rifles. Ouch!
 
  • #22
Moonbear
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The newspaper's primary audience is its student body. They really don't care about the opinion of someone half-way across the country.
If they're going to put their paper online so anyone can read it, they ought to care.

I suspect that she tried to take notes during the lecture, but having no knowledge, she just wrote down bits that sounded like they might be important - she didn't grasp the nature and purpose of the lecture. Once she was done, she had a few scribbled quotes, and that was it. She had nothing to make a story out of. I suspect her journalistic skills are less to blame than her "fish understanding a bicycle"-ness.
I disagree on this. People forget that journalism isn't just how well you can write a story that sounds good, but involves researching your facts and guaranteeing you've presented them accurately. Her journalistic skills ARE lacking if she didn't go back to the source, or even to a faculty member in the physics department who attended the lecture, to verify that what she was writing made sense if she didn't understand the topic herself. But I suppose she could have a lucrative career at FOX news if she prefers good sound bites over accuracy.

What this tells us is that popular lectures in physics should be about molecules, electromagnetism, heat, etc. We are 100 years away from giving coherent popular lectures on SR or basic QM...
As I was thinking about addressing this comment, it highlighted how bad her journalistic abilities were. We don't even gather from that article if this talk/lecture was widely publicized for the general public, or even the university community, or if it was primarily intended for scientists (it could have been the keynote address for a physics poster day or some such) and someone just thought it was a big deal that a nobel laureate was visiting the campus so sent a student out to report on it. I would agree that if this was a talk intended for the general public, it was far too technical of a topic, but if it was primarily intended for the physics or broader scientific community at the university, then probably the reporter was the only non-scientist in the audience.
 
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  • #23
Gokul43201
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People forget that journalism isn't just how well you can write a story that sounds good...
Sounds good? Even someone who thinks a quark is a bird-call will notice the terrible quality of writing. The writer doesn't know the difference between direct and indirect/reported speech, for starters, but the sentence that makes up paragraph 8 shows that she doesn't even understand what speech is.

More than 20 years ago, scientists discovered molecules that changed how they understand the basic materials for life, a 2004 Nobel Laureate recipient said Tuesday.

Dr. Frank Wilczek said quarks and gluons, the molecules discovered, are smaller than electrons and protons.

Simplifying quantum mechanics, including quarks and dark matter, is not an easy task for many physicists, but Wilczek easily explained the concept.

There were few empty seats in the Student Union Theatre when Wilczek explained that dark matter is in many places where light isn’t present.

Dark matter clumps together but looks the same wherever it is found, he said.

“The most profound lesson we’ve found is that ordinary space is not so empty,” Wilczek said.

The universe is a strange and beautiful place, and the basic equations of Einstein and other scientists don’t work perfectly, he said.

Wilczek is trying to rearrange the formulas to find better ways of understanding physics, he said.
 
  • #24
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How many times did he said, he said? :rolleyes:, he said. "Some w/quotes, some without", he said.
 
  • #25
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Gokul once said something along those lines in a thread about the "What the Bleep" movie.

https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=54188

Hits the nail right on the head.
That takes a lot of work on anyone's part. It's the cheap sci-fi stuff that sells. Someone will only learn how to reason if they want to & conversely if they really want to they will always succeed at it.
 

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