Saturday, August 14, 2010

Warning labels for bad journalism

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Ever felt like you ought to warn people about unreliable news sources and disreputable stories, but didn’t know how to communicate the fact that a certain paper or article was dripping with journalistic manure? Well, no, you probably haven’t. But nevertheless, Tom Scott has presented a bunch of various warning labels to stick onto cases of bad journalism. These could be incredibly useful:

“WARNING: Medical claims in this article have not been confirmed by peer-reviewed research.”
Bad medical claims
[source: Tom Scott]
“WARNING: Journalist does not understand the subject they are writing about”
Bad ignorance
[source: Tom Scott]

And my personal favorite:

“WARNING: Journalist hiding their own opinions by using phrases like ‘some people claim’”
Bad weasel words
[source: Tom Scott]

The inclusion of blatant weasel words ought to be grounds for immediate discreditation for any journalist claiming to be “fair and unbiased”. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Fox News.) While it’s unavoidable that every journalist has his/her personal biases and that their viewpoints will necessarily be felt through their writings in one way or another, it’s disreputably dishonest to try and make their personal opinions pass for the opinions of other groups, especially if they simply aren’t called for in the context of the story. In other words: Don’t try and be a pundit unless you’re specifically asked to share your views.

Despite the apparent usefulness of such labels, PZ does have a point: There’s hardly a point in plastering them on unreliable papers once they’re already in circulation. If only someone would crack into media companies and insert a little warning in every single copy instead …

(via Pharyngula)