Comments on: Milestone: The Science of Journalism it's like being there Tue, 16 Sep 2014 04:56:38 +0000 hourly 1 By: Jack Eaton Jack Eaton Fri, 04 May 2012 15:21:45 +0000 Another interesting thread of comments. The quality of reader comments is just another reason why it is worthwhile to regularly and generously contribute to the Chronicle.

By: John Floyd John Floyd Thu, 03 May 2012 05:53:39 +0000 Dave,

per your reticence to use the word “Burning”, as insufficiently descriptive: strikes me that the issue here is the assumed level of knowledge a writer attributes to a reader. To a chemist, “Burning” is another way of saying “Combining with Oxygen”. This is highly descriptive to someone who knows that code, such as another chemist. To someone who has never seem something burn before, and has not even a text book understanding of “Burning”, all your questions about the meaning of “Burning” might be necessary.

If you start from the assumption that your reader does not understand what is meant by various of the terms used in government and public policy discussions, it could be hard to get to the place where a piece of description can be written – you first have to educate your audience on the words you want to use. Mr. Webster devoted a life to simply explaining what words meant.

Personally, I find the construction of sentences and paragraphs to be more telling about an author’s intent to describe than the individual words chosen by the author.

It seems to me that the reason journalists are encouraged to tell stories, is that that generally is how people receive, organize and use information. If you want to give information to non-scientists, you will generally have more success if it is presented in story form. This is why the integrity of reporters, editors, and publishers is so important: once people get the idea that stories are being constructed to advance some agenda, rather than to convey information in an accessible manner, people stop paying attention to the newspaper.

What you guys do here at The Chron is fabulous, and I don’t want it to change. It’s just that storytelling is how people share and process information.

I’m glad Marvin is on duty, keeping the forgetful spellers among us in line. That is, I’m glad Marvin is keeping the OTHER forgetful spellers in line. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Vivienne – I think Dave’s point is that without Tycho Brahe, Kepler never happens. Data before analysis.

BTW, Dave, don’t get us started on Hoosiers.

By: sally m sally m Thu, 03 May 2012 00:30:37 +0000 Good point, and yet clearly you appreciate the value of a good story.

By: Rod Johnson Rod Johnson Wed, 02 May 2012 17:37:49 +0000 If you don’t think there’s a way to mistake them, I invite you to read some student papers. I have actually had a proofreader “correct” my use of moot to mute, which was disconcerting to say the least.

On the other hand, a pedant might say that even Dave is using it (or mentioning it) incorrectly–moot‘s original meaning was “debatable,” but that seems to have been replaced in many (most?) people’s minds by “not worth debating.”

By: Marvin Face Marvin Face Wed, 02 May 2012 16:18:44 +0000 I didn’t think there was any way to mistake the two and figured you meant it with the italics but what can i say…I’ve only driven through Indiana, never stopped.

By: Jim Rees Jim Rees Wed, 02 May 2012 15:36:34 +0000 While I sometimes groan inwardly when I see another of your City Council “stories” (sorry), I have learned to pick out the parts I’m interested in and not feel too guilty if I didn’t read every word. I appreciate that you save me the agony of actually attending the meetings, which I have done in the past and don’t enjoy.

On the journalist/scientist theme, another thing I like about the Chronicle is that if you publish a number, whether it’s AATA ridership or a tax rate, I can be sure that both the number and units are correct. In the waning days of the AA News I would automatically skip over all numbers because I knew I couldn’t trust them. Same is true of many newspapers today.

By: Dave Askins Dave Askins Wed, 02 May 2012 15:33:11 +0000 Re: moot versus mute point.

I meant to be “mentioning” the word, not “using” it — while taking what probably could be fairly called an ungenerous and gratuitous potshot at my home state of Indiana.

By: Steve Bean Steve Bean Wed, 02 May 2012 15:18:05 +0000 Per Jack’s comment, maybe a change is in order from the “[Full Story]” link to “[Full Report]“.

Haven’t you been to Indiana, Marvin?

By: Marvin Face Marvin Face Wed, 02 May 2012 15:17:19 +0000 Hey Dave, did you mean “moot” point instead of “mute” point?

By: Vivienne Armentrout Vivienne Armentrout Wed, 02 May 2012 15:09:33 +0000 As someone who has worked in both science and journalism, I agree that there are parallels but somewhat counter to the point made here.

Both scientists and journalists have the following two tasks:

1. Gathering information (data).
2. Constructing a narrative to explain these observations.

It is important in both of these enterprises not to conflate objective information with its subjective interpretation. The best reporting asks questions so that information is as complete as possible and does not leap to conclusions presented as facts. But if limited to only the facts, much of what is presented will bypass the audience and will also not lead to further reporting (observation).

In my own work, I asked the question, “how does this fungus recognize the host plant surface and form a distinct infection structure?”. But the actual observations were necessarily limited to details of branching patterns in response to certain stimuli. (Science is reductionist, generally.) Without the supporting narrative, these observations would have been of little moment and would not have led to further hypotheses.

Or for a historical example, Tycho Brahe made excellent observations of the movements of planetary bodies. [link] He constructed effective optical instruments and took meticulous observations. But it fell to Kepler and Copernicus to use his data (which were essentially in tabular form) to construct a new narrative of planetary motion that led to the adoption of the heliocentric model. Without the data, the subsequent calculations and models (the narrative) were not possible. But without the narrative, the data were of limited value.

All of this is to say that simple recording of facts is valuable and essential. But the writer must also put them into a context that makes sense of them and can lead to further discussion and exploration.

The Chronicle’s recording of events at public meetings, especially are a valuable source of information and creates an archive of important data. But some of your finest work has been when you step into the “analysis” corner and draw both different strands of information and inferences together. My personal favorite is your discussion of the conference center project [link].

Please keep on doing both forms of journalism.