One-sided science reporting

03/12/2012 § 3 Comments

The Dominion Post over the weekend had a set of articles — above the fold, lots of column-inches, full-colour photos — focusing on scientists. That, in itself, is great. The problem is that these scientists were stepping far outside their expertise and the journalists did nothing to rein them in, or at least present an alternative view.

I have previously discussed these problems, but going back over the posts I think I might have been too nuanced. Let me be plain:

  • New Zealand has a better environment than most tourists’ home countries. That’s why they want to come here. Are we 100% Pure? Of course not. Does it matter? Yes, no, maybe. Should we get our knickers in a twist that we haven’t lived up to the hype? Of course not — don’t be daft.
  • All the talk of creating an innovation ecosystem and fostering a high-tech economy is a patter. A patter is what the con man does to keep you distracted from his hand reaching into your pocket. One article (‘Smart means looking beyond clean green’, which I can’t find on the DP site) pointed to the Kapiti Coast and its efforts to get high-tech manufacturing going. Hey, I’ve looked at it. The KC is tiny — there are single university campuses and factories overseas with more people. There is no way to get the scale, scope, agglomeration, etc. necessary for a leading-edge sector. The New Zealand science system does really well: it publishes a lot, it has plenty of researchers, there are some areas in which we are the world’s best. But let’s not kid ourselves. Oh, and just in case you don’t believe me, check out the Growth and Innovation Framework (pdf) from 2002, which was going to solve all these problems by 2011.
  • People live here, and therefore work here, because of the quality of life. I was talking last week with a guy my age who is doing really well in the scientific world in Europe. His work and commute mean that he is away from home 14 hours a day. This is pretty standard in most big cities, where all that great innovation takes place. I’m not interested, and neither are most of the people here. If we wanted that life, we would be living it — elsewhere.
  • Don’t bring up alcohol research to prove how scientific you are, unless you are really willing to engage with it. I’ve just played around the edges and I can see how complicated it is. Yeah, okay, jacking up prices and clamping down on access will reduce harmful drinking amongst adolescents. But, at what cost? That is always the question — at what cost? If you don’t ask and answer that question, you are spouting propaganda.
  • Spare me the martyr talk. I’ve been hassled over my research, too. Heck, some of it is so controversial I can’t get it properly funded. It doesn’t make you more right.

The core problem is uncritical science reporting. These scientists have to deal with robust debate at work. More of that in the newspapers wouldn’t go amiss.

Internet works: story at eleven

24/01/2012 Comments Off on Internet works: story at eleven

I’m back at work after a great holiday. I decided to unplug myself from internet for a few weeks, which was just lovely. I get rather wrapped up in news and commentary so a clean break was the way to go.

My travels took me to New York, Paris, and London. I did pay attention to newspapers and television in those cities, particularly to the economic and financial news. Despite coming from the other side of the world, I felt pretty well informed about the major stories. For example, there were no big revelations in the news coverage of the euro stories.  Of course, it was interesting to hear the tone of coverage and see which aspects were emphasised.

It is fascinating and empowering that we can sit in New Zealand, plug into the internet, and be as well informed as most people in the world financial centres. The internet is an amazing tool for spreading and finding information.

And of course, that’s the problem for old communication technologies. Hence the push-back from Hollywood and others against the internet. The SOPA and PIPA bills in the US Congress have been stopped for the moment, but the larger issue isn’t going away. Movie, television, music, even book companies are trying to figure out how to make money in the new technological environment. One way is to adapt to the technology; another is to have the government restrict the technology to protect their businesses.

When the Web was first commercialised, I used to think about McLuhan’s dictum, ‘the medium is the message’. What was the new medium, and what message did it carry? It seemed to revolve around three things: content tailored for the individual, the active role of the individual in sourcing material, and the individual’s ability to reflect on old material and produce new stuff. If you want it, you can probably find it on the internet, and then you can tell the world what you think of it. If you can’t find it, you can make it.

However, this active individualism is based on high-tech tools whose control is contested. People and companies are fighting over control of the infrastructure that allows me to type my thoughts into a text box and quickly produce a webpage. That’s the other part of the medium-message: the individualism is contingent. It isn’t a veneer, but it also isn’t self-sufficient. This was the AOL business model, and it is still being attempted in various forms.

The old communications technologies – the broadcast technologies – are more appropriate for mass production and passive consumers. Internet technology is more individual and fluid, but large-scale providers are still important (Facebook, Apple, Cisco). The two realms also interact with each other. Movies use the internet as a plot premise; TV shows let viewers comment on-line; the value of Megaupload is partly derived from the products of the old media firms.

So, yep, the internet works. But its success will be televised.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with media at Groping towards Bethlehem.