Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmx DOT com

Science in London: The 2016 scientific society talks in London blog post

Saturday, 23 October 2010

"Bollocks Watch" - feedback to evening event at #IASBB on proactive science stories

Time for another teeny blogpost on #IASBB. I think serialisation of my blog posts is likely to work better in terms of me actually getting stuff down ;)

This follows on from my post yesterday although the discussion mentioned below actually preceded the discussion mentioned in yesterday's post. At the evening reception for the 'Beyond Blogging' event hosted at the Wellcome Trust by Gallomanor / I'm a Scientist we heard feedback from discussions at the afternoon sessions, which were looking at ways to engage people slightly more actively with science (and scientists ... with public) via online activities.

The first person to report back was Paul whose group had come up with 'Bollocks Watch', a sort of 'proactive version' of some of the sites already in place that react to bad science, such as Behind the Headlines. No slight towards BtH is intended by my use of the probably a bit loaded terms 'reactive' and 'proactive'. I'm a huge fan of BtH and use it frequently at work - even went to the celebratory party a few weeks ago.

I think I'd like to hear more about this Bollocks Watch - the more I write up these mini posts the more I wish I'd been at the earlier part of the event.

My first reaction was - is this really that new? Everyone seems to be addressing the terrible reporting of science in the news™ (I'm not sure if we've stopped yet to notice if it's got better, or if we just notice the bad stuff without remembering the good).

Working for Diabetes UK I do tend to notice any bad stories about diabetes, and health stories - it's my job to find out about what's going on and what people will contact us about. Well-reported clear stories probably don't generate as many calls or emails, or a response that requires a sort of Behind the Headlines explanation. I've also written on this blog (somewhere towards the back) that sometimes the article is fine and people just misunderstand something in it. I wonder what the situation is for science stories that have nothing to do with health.

Anyway - I'm not pretending by any means that all is perfect in science communication via the newspapers etc. And I'm pretty sure we're going to put on our website a guide to spotting terrible science reporting in the news fairly soon ;-)

Paul's group's aim was to counter misinformation arising from bad science reporting (am vastly in favour of correcting misinformation obviously) but more by being creative - generating a story and getting it out there, in the hope of replacing the bad story with a good one. This would involve having a recognised 'brand' and creating an active message of positive stories to 'make the truth better than the fiction'. Paul talked a little about the viral strategies used by 4chan and popbitch (I'm not familiar with these sites to be honest) and having a site where the public can rate reporters, publications and their content (yikes!).

As always I wondered how this might fit in with ventures already in place to address misinformation - I don't know of any that are actively retaliating by trying to get a 'more correct' version into the press, or if that would work. Presumably the initial press release (assuming it's not a fiction itself) is going to be telling a reasonable story (I know, I know) - I'm just thinking aloud how a bad story would be reversed by a second press release.

Are journalists / newspapers / BBC embarrassed by being cited in Behind the Headlines? Does it lead to the story being amended?

On the topic of the reporting of statistical information in the news I'll be interested to see what happens during @scijourntrain's analysis of training opportunities in stats for non-science journalists, and other resources - I added a comment to his blogpost here which I think is relevant.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I was sorry not to be able to make the Beyond Blogging thing but it clashed with World Statistics Day and the launch of getstats.org.uk at the RSS.

    I think the problem with this kind of thing is that it can easily come across as scientists nit-picking without trying to understand the need for journalists to simplify some aspects of the science and get a story out quickly. To that end, I'm not sure calling it 'Bollocks Watch' starts off on the right foot!

    But I do like the idea of creating a positive alternative story rather than just tearing down the media version. If those stories did then become news themselves, it might encourage journalists to write the stories that way in the first place.

    To some extent, this is already what Behind the Headlines (as you mention) are doing, as well as a lot of science blogs. I've really enjoyed reading the debunking of the 'cancer is caused by modern life' story on the CRUK blog, for instance.

    Would be interested to hear more about their ideas anyway - do you know if anyone is taking it forward?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your comment - I'm not sure what's happening next. Possibly we need to have a seminar on beyond "Beyond Blogging" :)

    I think they'd agree that the name wasn't ideal, but it got the point across to the attendees. I expect if anything comes of it the name might be tweaked.

    Will have to ask Sophia and Shane for info on who Paul was and what's next.

    BtH and CRUK posts are ace :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Jo,

    Paul is Paul Clarke @paul_clarke and http://honestlyreal.com

    I'd invited him to help facilitate the event as he has a track record in using technology in innovative ways for communication and engagement.

    I think Bolloxwatch was just a working title, but the idea was about viral, funny, and subversive pieces to rebute the bollox so who knows...

    BTW thank you for writing up so much about the event.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Shane - there'll be more write ups this weekend all going well. It was a great event, really enjoyed the bit I was at (evening reception).

    ReplyDelete

Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).