This Explains a Lot

The following is about a study on Marijuana use, but it could easily be about the media treatment of you-know-what:

The saddest part of Mirken’s article is this response from an American editor to his suggestion that reporters should have asked about the possible influence of confounding variables, such as dental hygiene and use of other drugs, on the link between marijuana and bad gums:

We are dealing with a peer-reviewed journal study, and I don’t feel at all comfortable going beyond what they are publishing. That is not our role.

Any journalist who doesn’t feel comfortable going beyond what appears in a medical journal to put a study’s findings in context and offer caveats where appropriate has no business writing about science. Reporters can’t be experts on everything, but they can ask smart questions and seek informed comments regarding a study’s potential weaknesses. If news organizations refuse to do so on the grounds that the study was peer reviewed and therefore must be faultless, they might as well just reprint researchers’ press releases. Which is pretty much what they do, all too often.

  • Adirian

    Maybe reporters shouldn’t comment on political activity, either, since they are dealing with expert opinions by people who have PhDs in law – after all, it is their role to report what the best-informed individuals say, not to analyze it.

  • I recommend reading the Skeptic Society’s essay:

    Journalist-Bites-Reality!
    How broadcast journalism is flawed in such a fundamental way that its utility as a tool for informing viewers is almost nil..”.

    It explains many, many things…