More talk than action with the bad scientist

Gillian McKeith in a white coat, Harold Shipman the mass murdrerer and Bruce Forsyth circa Play Your Cards Right. These are the characters who inhabit the world of Bad Science columnist Ben Goldacre.

I saw him speak last night at Glydwr University as part of the Wrexham Science Festival. The talk was being recorded for the Science Cafe programme on Radio Wales.

I like his column and often refer to it in my classes, especially to teach students about the importance of verifying their sources.

So I was hoping for some new insight on how we the media report on science. But, disappointingly, there was a lot of medicine and little on the changing nature of journalism.

Better reporting

The session ran over thanks to some poor interview management by host Adam Walton of Radio Wales.

We touched on reporting science only briefly in the truncated Q & A at the end. And the only advice he proffered was thus: “What popular science really requires is more editors and less writers.”

I think he means more subs. But it was his advice for reporting on science that really grated with me. “Make it about data not stories about people,” he said.

Data journalism is a fine area for students to develop but, ultimately, if you want to bring key scientific issues to the wider public, then giving them a human face is vital.

Playing up the human-interest angle is clearly a better way to engage readers than a phone-directory-sized report crammed full with baffling statistics.

Doing the rounds 

Ultimately I guess this was just another book-pushing session for Dr Goldacre.

I’d probably be trotting out the old faithful anecdotes by this point in the promo tour, too, if I knew they’d raise a moderate-sized titter from the crowd.

But, on this showing, I’m not moved to buy the book.

As Ben himself said, “There’s an element in all this of wanting to be a massive clever dick.”

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