Science journalism and economics

Science journalism is one of my favourites. Scientists Luis Alvarez and Jan Smit discover that a meteorite destroyed the dinosaurs but it are the journalists who turn this into an exciting story, with some artist drawing pictures of it. Hanns-Peter Boehm coins the word graphene in 1962 and Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov get a Nobel Prize for it in 2010, but it are the science journalists who translate the fascination from the highbrow level to what simple lowbrows like us can understand. In English, there is distinction between science and the humanities, but science journalism would cover both areas.

Unfortunately there is a gap or black hole between science journalism and the economics section in the newspapers. Economic science does not get reported on very well. The economics section tends to focus on the markets and economic policy, and the science journalists either don’t regard economics as a science or assume that all aspects of economics are already reported upon in the economics section.

The gap causes an imbalance in standards. To report on a Nobel Prize in economics, newspapers may invite an academic professor of the same area to explain what it is all about. Matters that are less obviously scientific they will handle themselves. Now that Paul Krugman has a new book End this depression NOW! he is interviewed by a reporter from the economics section. The reporting thus is not subjected to the same standards of quality as one presumes for the dinosaurs or graphene.

We seem to get reports like this: When the meteorite hit, all dinosaurs were lifted five meters in the air, and few survived the subsequent drop. If the dinosaurs had been intelligent they would have shot the meteorite from the sky. Graphene will replace ice as the surface for icescating. In the future, graphene will also improve your sex life.

To my earlier weblog entry on the Spinoza Prize of last June 4 I can include the note that there were also science journalists present. It appeared that no science journalist showed any interest or alarm at my protest against the censorship of economic science by the directorate of the Central Planning Bureau. Some even began to slander. Here is a letter (in Dutch) to the Dutch society of journalists. I haven’t received a reply yet, it is almost ten days later, and it really concerns censorship of science and the slanderous behaviour by members of their society.

Looking at newspapers in other countries it seems that the gap between science reporting and the economics section is rather common. Thus it would not be something peculiar for Holland. But it may well be that international journalists and Dutch journalists react differently when the gap is pointed out to them. Most likely there are deep ingrained social conventions that make it hard to close the gap anyway. Science and journalism, a fascinating pair.


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