Wild west science reporting : pitfalls and ethical issues in the reporting of frontier sciences

Low, Marcus (2003-12)

Thesis (MPhil) -- Stellenbosch University, 2003.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: When reporting on new research or claims by scientists, the science journalist faces a number of pitfalls. For a number of reasons the journalist might produce a story which is inaccurate or misleading. Thus, when a scientist claims to have found a cure for cancer, the journalist needs to check himself before delivering the story. In this paper I will examme a number of issues concerning the reporting of frontier science, or new research. In this realm it is particularly difficult to distinguish more reliable science from less reliable science. The problem is compounded by the vested interests of scientists, pharmaceutical companies and other interest groups. What the science journalist writes, influences public opinion, conceptions about science, and often affects people's decision-making regarding medical issues. There is thus a clear ethical aspect to science reporting. I will try to show that an understanding of how science works is crucial to reporting science responsibly. In this regard the distinction between frontier and textbook science is of particular importance. Theoretical distinctions such as these provide useful tools for the interpretation of claims from the frontier. The first chapter, then, will deal with theoretical concepts pertaining to how SCIence works. In the second we will examine a number of examples of how reporting from the frontiers can go wrong. We will argue that a better understanding of science might have prevented many of the inaccuracies and misleading claims examined. In chapter three we will attempt to list what can go wrong, and examine some of the possible consequences, thus outlining the ethical aspect of science reporting. Finally we will make a few suggestions and outline some guidelines which might contribute to more accurate and responsible reporting from the frontiers.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Wanneer daar oor nuwe navorsing of aansprake deur wetenskaplikes berig moet word, word die wetenskapsverslaggewer gekonfronteer deur 'n aantal moontlike slaggate. Om verskeie redes kan daar onakkuraat of misleidend verslag gedoen word. Wanneer 'n wetenskaplike dus berig dat daar 'n kuur vir kanker gevind is, moet die joernalis homself eers aan sekere beginsels herinner. In hierdie skrywe sal ek 'n aantal kwessies te doen met die beriggewing van pionierswetenskap, of nuwe wetenskap, ondersoek. Op hierdie terrein is dit veral moeilik om tussen betroubare en minder betroubare wetenskap te onderskei. Die probleem word vererger deur die belange van wetenskaplikes, farmaseutiese maatskappye en ander belangegroepe. Dit wat deur die wetenskapsjoernalis berig word, beïnvloed publieke opinie en beskouings oor die wetenskap, en raak dikwels mense se besluitneming rakende mediese kwessies. Daar is dus 'n duidelike etiese aspek aan wetenskapsverslaggewing verbonde. Ek gaan poog om te wys dat 'n begrippnj van hoe wetenskap werk, onmisbaar is vir verantwoordelike wetenskapsverslaggewing. In hierdie verband is die onderskeid tussen pioniers- en handboekwetenskap van besondere belang. Teoretiese onderskeide soos dié verskaf bruikbare gereedskap VIr die interpretasie van aansprake uit die pionierswetenskap. In die eerste hoofstuk sal 'n aantal teoretiese konsepte oor die werking van wetenskap verduidelik word. In die tweede hoofstuk sal 'n aantal voorbeelde van waar verslaggewing van [N4]pionierswetenskap verkeerd geloop het, bespreek word. Ek gaan argumenteer dat In beter begrippisj van wetenskap moontlik baie van dié onakkuraathede en misleidende aansprake sou kon voorkom het. Hoofstuk drie sal dan poog om te lys wat verkeerd kan gaan, en sal sommige van die moontlike gevolge ondersoek. Hierdeur sal die etiese aspek van wetenskapsverslaggewing dus uitgestippel word. Aan die einde sal ek 'n paar voorstelle maak, en probeer om riglyne uit te stip wat kan bydra tot meer akkurate en verantwoordelike verslaggewing van pionierswetenskap.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/49806
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