Monday, 13 April 2015

Storytellers both


Although it is useful and even essential to make distinctions where they are real, it can be equally useful to set conventional distinctions to one side.

For example, take the distinction between scientists and journalists. Conventionally these are distinct and even morally distinct professions, but there are a number of obvious similarities.

Many scientists must publish or die.
So a good story may be better than an accurate one.
And a rehash is easier than something new.
And consensus is easier than radical.
And genuine investigation is expensive, the outcome uncertain.

Overall conclusion? Aiming to offend neither paymaster nor expectations is a sound policy for journalists and scientists - or anyone else for that matter. Should we be surprised if science has interesting similarities to journalism?

We see the similarities in numerous areas such as nutrition, health, the environment, psychology, sociology, cosmology, materials science, battery technology, novel fuels and nuclear power. The line between science and the storyteller's art becomes blurred, often disappearing altogether.    

Both scientists and journalist tell stories of variable quality, originality and integrity, in part due to similar pressures. On the whole our society doesn’t see it that way, but the pressures and the consequent parallels are striking. There are differences of course, but what if the pressures converge and the similarities become even more significant?

As with journalism, science generates a range of output from high quality reporting of the natural world to its own version of the gutter press, wallowing in scare stories, personalities and general clamour where the paymaster is king and nothing else matters.

The trick is to tell one from the other.


Demetrius said...

The trouble is that you do not find out until too late.

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - and now I think it is much too late... but you never know.