Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reductionism

Worth a look: Adrian Monck on reductionism in science and journalism, and what the consequences are for citizen participation.

"If we understand journalism as the marketing of information then arguments about reductionism become less meaningful. The content of the information in the market matters less than its availability and the fact that it obeys the formal rules of the genre (facts are correct, etc.). If we appreciate journalism as a branch of rules-based non-fiction then it has its own enjoyment."

And, as far as it goes, this is all OK. In the paragraphs preceding the one quoted above, Monck outlines the dilemmas that journalists face in wanting to communicate accurate and valuable information to an indifferent and time-poor public. He concludes that that journalists should relax, not worry about the dilemmas and concentrate on making the best of it.

The juxtaposition with science that he draws is an interesting one. If, for instance, I were to decide to research some sort of cure for the case of galloping knob-rot that I may or may not be suffering from at the moment, what should I be advised to do? (I'll ignore keeping-trousers-on suggestions, so save your comments).

Would I look to a good punchy summariser for advice? Or would I go and find someone with a few letters after their name and a bit of a reputation for reading fat books entitled 'An Advanced Medical Approach to the Treatment of Galloping Knob-Rot'.

I'd probably do the latter. And, as the medical profession and their various professional bodies have done a very good job in ensuring that it is not very respectable to consult quacks, I will choose a proper doc - as will most people.

When journalists are as good as doctors at promoting best practice and professionalism among their colleagues - in peer review and the harassment of charlatans, I'll be as relaxed about trusting what I read in newspapers as I am about my little rash. Until then, can we stop discussing anything other than ungarnished reporting in newspapers as if it carried any weight?

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