Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gay Vaccinations?

First off, I must share with you my feelings reading this article. Not only is it very uncomfortable for me to read this scientific study, it is completely frightening to think that this work can reach a highly trafficked news source. Reading this article, personally, makes you laugh at points but also makes you feel sorry to those who may be offended. Although this does not offend me, I can certainly understand where people could find this very insulting.

To look at this from an ethical point of view, it certainly seems to be offensive, illegitimate, and misleading. If you look at this as a scientific journalist, you will likely agree that this is not science but rather journalism in the modern world. (Biased/Untruthful Journalism) An "italian" doctor, whom I have not heard of, is proposing results that have as much credibility as the link between vaccines and autism.

Unfortunately, I am not fluent in Italian so I cannot read his argument. But what I can do is reflect on this as a more business savvy and numerical point of view. I assume that Vanoli's argument is back by a study and has numerical data that reinforces his theory. As you learn with statistics, theory is backed by results and results are no more than a potential success of proving your theory. In simpler words, you propose an idea, you take a sample, test the sample, and then reflect on your results. These results are a "probability" not facts. Like I said before, I wish I knew Italian because I would love to see his statistical evidence here.

Science and Statistics walk a thin line with each other. A statistician works on probability and scientists tend to work on fact. In this case, we are seeing a clash that leads me to believe Vanoli is reporting false information. Trying to keep a scientific and open mind, I am giving this scientist the benefit of the doubt that his scientific theory may be reinforced statistically but I am not willing to admit that he is "proving" anything.

Additionally, you must consider that Vanoli is touching on a very relevant and controversial topic. Clearly, I was offended by his science but he is attempting to crack a tough topic to many people. I made it clear that I am not sold on his scientific theory but even more important, people will surely find no credibility in such an outrageous theory. Ethically, this crosses the line. Scientifically, this is enough to make you laugh. Hopefully people look into this topic and do not take anything for fact until "proven" correct.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fair News or Foul News?

As reported, Fox News quotes themselves to be "fair and balanced". If you recall last week's blog, I spoke about fairness and balance being used to reinforce a point. Although someone or something, in this case fox news, claims to be fair, they usually tend to be the opposite.

The study provided explains that viewers of Fox news are less informed than those who are watching CNN, Jon Stewart, or no news at all. I believe that this is just a reinforcement of my previous point. Giving balance is just a way to help a journalist sway or direct viewers in their preferred direction. Although that seems to be very unethical, we all know that Fox News is highly popular and certainly does the job of a journalist. They "attract" the viewers regardless of "credibility" in information.

So the question is, does fairness lead to a misinformed audience or does it lead you down the path the news wants you to go? I believe that the news has a goal for the viewer and that fairness and balance is just a cover. If you see a fruit stand that advertises "the freshest fruit" versus one that advertises "Good Fruit", where are you likely going to go? The goal of the advertisement is to attract and portray a mindset that the information relayed is reliable and the "best". That, in no way, means that the information provided is credible or the most informing.

The goals of the media will certainly effect the audiences knowledge. It is pretty clear that there are die hard CNN or Fox News Fans, for example. People take the information by "their" trusted sources and use it to stay informed. If those outlets have a goal in mind, and that could be to omit information or sway a story to mold to their liking, then they will have a direct effect on those watching. People have a strong belief in their news sources and will even argue their side of the story versus the opposition. Whether the information is correct or not, people stand by their news source. If current knowledge is gained through news outlets then they legitimately have a foot in the door with how smart their viewers can be. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Balance: Use it to Your Advantage

Although I acknowledge that giving balance in scientific media can be a waste of time, I believe that giving balance is the key to getting a viewer to actually read your work. There is certainly some skeptics that you seem to be satisfying by splitting columns but I believe scientific media needs those skeptics.

If you are a scientific writer that believes cold hard facts and indisputable information is what is necessary in science writing then you will likely disagree with me. In my personal opinion, if everyone is agreeing on a topic like HIV and Aids, your scientific writing will likely not be read. Readers like to read some sort of controversy or dispute in scientific research. For instance, Scientific breakthroughs tend to tell the story of defying odds and finding final results (balance). The controversy, in some ways, is just as attractive as the actual science. Without that skepticism, people find science to be boring or dry.

You may be thinking, well skeptics have very little factual reinforcement. Why give balance?

As all scientists know, proving something to be 100% right is relatively impossible. The most effective scientific media is done by acknowledging readers lack of knowledge and simply giving both sides of the spectrum. Additionally, giving readers the evidence that one side is clearly more correct than the other is a writers way of proving their point. In a way, using balance to actually reinforce one side.

So I must admit, I agree with Mooney in the sense that giving balance is frustrating and questionable, but I believe balance can be used to a writer's advantage. Although I am a novice scientific writer, I know from my own experiences that balance can actually reinforce the point you are driving. You can satisfy a "critic" by giving them column space, but in return actually be separating scientific fact from skepticism.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fashion Weekly: Goggles and Wirey Hair

After taking several minutes to draw my version of a scientist and then comparing that to the depictions I requested from friends, I found that we all constructed relatively similar pictures. I guess our pictures follow your stereotypical scientists. For example, Goggles over eyes, tongs in hand, wire thin white hair, and long lab coats. These depictions are not far off of what you may see in ClipArt. Little did i know that when you take two steps back, the drawing that i constructed was exactly the opposite of what a "real" scientists looks like. (As far as I know)

So what is the impact of this stereotype that us artists worked so hard to depict?

Well considering my short background in science, particularly scientific writing, I have found that science is far from what it appears to be. In a sense, people get the wrong message when they think about scientists. You immediately think of a nerdy, crazy, Frankenstein making old guy that mixes chemicals. These stereotypes cause a particular difficulty for science writers who are trying to organize and express complex scientific concepts. After all, do you really trust that wirey haired old guy mizing chemicals?

Science writers, as I have learned from experience, are disguised as regular humans. In fact, I feel like any minute they will unzip their costumes and a mad scientist will step out. Obviously I am kidding, but this is my way of showing you how difficult it is to comprehend who is exactly relaying you scientific information. When you read an article, you look at sources and you immediately check the contents credibility. Scientific writers are scrutinized the same way. These stereotypes that me and my friends drew with pencil are what people see when they hear a "scientist" wrote or conducted something. If that trust, or tested credibility is relying on a stereotype then that article will likely not be read.

Scientific writers biggest struggle is getting someone interested in the "boring" science they have chosen to write about. If that stereotype cannot be broken or worked around, then the battle is far from over. Mistrust and misinterpretation in science writing can live or die by that mad scientist that we have drawn and until you experience the "real" scientists, you may never find that interest in science that scientific writers seek.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In fact, it's not fact

When it comes to decisions in my life, I tend to rely more on my gut than the facts that point me in a direction. I find that your gut will steer you in the direction that you truly want to encounter. Specifically, when decisions come up I like to follow my gut for two reasons. First, because I can live with a bad decision as long as did what I wanted or felt was right. And second, because facts will point you in a direction but if that direction is not the right one for you, then you have to live with following someone else's path for you. The consequences may be exactly the same, but decisions have repercussions and you are the individual that has to deal with them. 

As a scientific writer, i tend to follow a different criteria. I will choose fact over a mere facts. As an amateur writer, writing about fact is not only easier but you have little room for argument. If something is proven, you have the print to back it up. I believe that scientific writers, in general, tend to lean toward the facts side. Mainly due to facts holding merit in the world of science. If something is not proven then readers will criticize the credibility. In my opinion, credibility is everything in scientific writing. 

When the media decides to follow truthfulness rather than truth, credibility is definitely exposed. Similarly with scientific journalism, credibility is everything and if there is lack of credibility than the story is considered "not true". 

The effect of the media is where truth and mere truth become widely different. The media has the ability to alter decisions, very similar to the way your gut and facts can alter your own personal decision. When people listen to the media, they may take that information as fact or fiction and further that in their own personal decisions. When you have the media portraying a half-truth, per say, and people taking it as truth, then you have a conflict. 

Truth can be interpreted however the reader or viewer wants to. If that truth is handled loosely, you see a large difference between the effects of my personal decisions and those that media influence.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Good Science or Good Science Writing?

When you connect Autism and Vaccine's, you can definitely say that they are scientifically incorrect. If studies show more harm than aid with vaccines, then the red flag must be raised. As some would say they are scientifically wrong, but more specifically they are scientifically illiterate. I could not disagree more.

Although you can not argue with the evidence, I believe you need to give credit where credit is due. When you think of what you hear about in scientific news, you only hear about breakthrough successes or detrimental failures. I do not consider the vaccine-autism connection to be a failure. In return, I do not consider these advocates to be scientifically illiterate.

It is made very clear that these advocates are doing extensive research and have some sort of credibility here. The results do not follow, but the research continues. As of right now there are no links between the two and evidence shows harm over aid. This does not mean that we won't be reading about a breakthrough in the future. We could very well be hearing about a breakthrough study connecting the two. 

More importantly, I believe it is ignorant to label them as ignorant. These scientists or advocates are doing what they can to settle a problem/disease that we are all looking for answers to. Some may say it is a waste of time, but I believe this is no different than any other scientific study. We can not consider them scientifically illiterate if they are extensively searching for something we so desire.

When i think back to learning as a scientific writer, I think about giving the audience what they want to hear. As I stated before, we all seem to be a little confused and desperate for answers to autism. These scientists are only trying to gives us what we want. An ignorant scientific reader, as many can be labeled as, will be very satisfied with the word of vaccine-autism advocates. Although it may not be scientifically correct, it is worthy of scientific writing. It is accessible and newsworthy. This is a conflict between what people want to hear and what remains proven in science.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Science, common good not common knowledge...

     When you consider the knowledge that you gain, you must consider that it is not tangible to the naked eye of one who may pass you by. I learned from a young age that asking questions, whether it be simple or out of the ordinary, you will gain from that experience. As humans we all experience things and have a knowledge that can only be expressed and shared if evoked. Expressing interest is an option but the likelihood is very low. As Kathy speaks of in her talk, we are now spending roughly 10-13 hours in front of a screen. When we are curious we search through google or stumbleupon what we have interest in. We are shared information about whats new and hip in the news. I personally believe that we are no longer gaining from our own curiosity for this reason.
     You must now consider science and how that relates to this situation. Science, as we continually say, must be simplified due to the fear that the word brings to people. Last week I spoke about how I do not believe science can be restored in people. I continue this week with the notion of what science and the knowledge we gain can do to those around us. More specifically our challenge of writing science to better the "common good". Science clearly has a bridge that separates the interested and the non-interested. I do not believe that we can "restore" the interest of people but I do believe that as writers we can give science away for the better of people. When it comes to science, I do have that curiosity that I learned as a kid, but it is my duty to connect to those who don't.
     How do we do this? It is easy to say we must simplify it but I believe it goes beyond that. We need to write in a fashion that opens the eyes of the audience to the benefit that can come from it. Writing must be personal but also very connecting to many worlds. I will use the example that I learned in Marketing class. When asked what marketing does for someone who may become a banker or a scientist or a journalist, few understood what answer the professor was looking for. Until the concept of Marketing products in the business world was set aside. The benefit of the subject came from the various reasons marketing can help a human in the real world. Marketing oneself for a job, Strategies to make one's work relevant, etc. Rather than discussing the way to make a breakthrough product, we learned that marketing goes beyond the business world.
     If we can transfer that concept to the curiosity and intentions of a reader/audience then we can capture the real benefit of science to the real world. People do not want to read about sickle cells if they do not understand them. But if we can bridge the gap with multiple connections to the outside world, I believe we may benefit that reader. Would a business man really benefit from sickle cell reporting in the newspaper? Maybe not directly, but that same business man may now have a step up on a client that has a similar background or interest.
    This is a very complex challenge because science tends to be filled with very challenging topics that relate to very few. As writers we need to worry less about informing the reader about, using the same example, sickle cell research and more about how they can advance for reading it. If we are in a world that moves a million miles a second via monitor screens and handheld devices, we must make it known that reading is not a waste of time. Expressing that benefit to the average Joe is not easy, but I believe people are only as curious as the middle man (us) make them. No longer does one ask out of the blue to gain that random knowledge you may never experience or "stumble" upon. We certainly can do our best to change that!