Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

The Media Meat Grinder

Every major news outlet has a person who checks every fact, detail and hypothesis. Anything wrong is revised or cut out. But although a finished news piece can have nothing but accurate facts, it can also spread harmful misinformation.

How come?

Because journalists aren’t required to check their work for false impressions.

Which is how the world gets false ideas about science and people who are important enough to get interviewed.

Let’s discuss the interviews first. Using astrophysicist and science spokesman, Neil Degrasse Tyson, as our example.

Back in 2014, Neil did an extensive interview for the New Yorker where he told the reporter he wasn’t a model student.

He explained how he had mediocre grades and was disruptive in class. But Neil also explained what he did outside of class:

He was a member of the astronomy club. He took extra classes at the Hayden Planetarium. He read more books than any of his classmates. He got a scholarship to study Stonehenge. And he was such a photography nerd, that when he needed to develop his photos, he’d turn his parent’s bathroom into a dark room.

The reporter heard Neil talk about his time in school, at length. 

Yet what did the reporter write about Neil in her article?

“Tyson attended public schools, and was not a distinguished student.”

Although that sentence is factually accurate, it’s also a gross misinterpretation. 

Because when we read ‘undistinguished student,’ we actually think of an unmotivated student who’d only pick up a book if it was hiding the remote. But Neil was one of the most academically motivated kids in his entire school.

Journalists don’t only give the wrong idea about people, but also about scientific truth.

Ever wondered how egg yolk can be bad for you one day, good for you the next, and then bad again a week later?

That’s what happens when journalists report on newly published research papers and blindly parrot its conclusion.

Where it goes wrong is that journalists often don’t understand that one research paper does not make a scientific truth. We only speak of a scientific truth when a hypothesis can be verified, or if it has withstood the stickling scrutiny of countless scientists trying to debunk it. 

One paper is hardly a scientific truth.

But journalists don’t care about that. Most journalists care about finding a new scrap of information that attracts enough eyeballs, so that wealthy companies want to pay money for ads in the margins.

Which is how the public gets bamboozled into believing phony ideas.

Although the news does give us valuable insights, we mustn’t forget that it comes from organisations that ultimately want to make a buck. So be careful you don’t step in the bullshit.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach