[ASC-list] World class

Cathy Sage cathy at sagewords.com.au
Fri Jun 4 07:03:01 UTC 2010

Hi all, On a frivolous Friday arvo note, I think someone early on was wanting new superlatives to describe breakthroughs. Since I have a house full of teenagers, I offer some adjectival offerings that could describe new and great 'breakthroughs' -  sick, fully sick, awesome, cooli-ose, unreal (with 'bro' tacked on), “fett” or “hardcore” (for great, fantastic), “derb gut” (crudely good) or “böse gut” (wickedly good).

Great conversation by the way... I've enjoyed all points of view. 


On 04/06/2010, at 3:37 PM, Phillip Arena wrote:

Thanks Rob,

Excellent points. 

Your mention of reporting news, reminds me of an article I once read that
focused on the differing styles of journalism as presented by various
newspapers in the USA. The particular news item was about a young child who
was bitten by his pet snake (and please forgive my ageing memory for missing
all the details). 
The more 'reputable' papers reported the story as a boy who was bitten on
his face by his pet snake and whose injury was only in need of light
Down the other end of the journalism scale, the identical story was reported
as a boy who had virtually lost his eye and half his face following the
savage attack of.......and so on.

This then leads us to ask:

Where is the truth actually reported?....or does truth not exist in the eyes
of marketed media?

..and would this current imbalance influence the nature of how a story is
written prior to submission?

Eg. were I to submit a story on a new species of lizard (yes, I'm a
herpetologist) in 'The world weekly news (aka "the world's only reliable
news"...and yes, an extreme example), it would only stand half a chance of
being published if I were to entitle the piece,
"I had sex with a frog from Mars!" (these papers often misrepresent reptiles
as amphibians).

(Update: A quick browse on the WWNews website shows the headline "Megan Fox
is a Man!"

Finally, to play devil's advocate, given that science can at times be
bland......do we need to dress it up in order to sell it? Surely, it all
comes down to our audience.

Thoughts for discussion?



On 5/6/10 5:16 AM, "Dr Rob Morrison" <rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au> wrote:

> This topic, which has run before, seems to polarise people into those
> who hate the use of such cliches, and those who think that, for some
> reason, editors will love them and be favourably disposed to the
> "release" that contains them. A bit of evidence-based exploration is
> probably due here.
> I have gone on the record for a while as being an opponent of
> "cutting-edge," "leading-edge," and especially "breakthrough" nonsense
> in these media releases, and it is more than just the grumpy whining of
> an ageing pedant.
> Julian and others, while disliking the terms, defend them on the basis
> that they encourage editors to include the story in their bulletins, and
> say that is how newsrooms work. Perhaps some do, and others did once,
> before the terms became cliched. There is certainly evidence to the
> contrary.  I have worked in the newsrooms of several stations for years,
> and I know from my own experience that there are editors who view this
> stuff with (usually well deserved) scorn for the hyperbole it often is.
> As the science specialist I was often handed science stories to see if
> they should run. My own reaction to "breakthroughs" was immediately one
> of suspicion, and I was often right in that judgement. I ran other
> stories in which the writer had used careful writing explain why some
> reseach was significant and bothered to make clear why our audience(s)
> would find it so.
> We also talked about this matter at a Board meeting of the AusSMC here.
> Garry Linnell, then the Editor of Bulletin and subsequently Nine
> Network, Telegraph etc, was openly scathing about such releases, saying
> that every second science release seemed to describe a "breakthrough"
> and that, when he received them, he binned them on the spot. He also
> said that "Someone should tell them not to do it."  Who should do that
> but the ASC?
> When Susan Greenfield was our Thinker in Residence, I was on a panel
> with her and others to look at Science in the Media. Questions from the
> floor about "breakthroughs" led another editor on the panel to say he
> rejected them almost immediately, as (a) usually he couldn't understand
> the science described and (b)he could usually sense that someone wanted
> to use his media outlet for PR or for increasing their chances of
> getting their next grant.
> Not all editors are swayed by these hackneyed terms, and why would they
> be? I surveyed some media releases on Eurekalert a while back - 5000
> plus, and half of them had "breakthrough" as their descriptor of the
> work done. "Cutting-Edge" and "Groundbreaking" scored absurdly highly as
> well.
> I maintain that we should discourage this nonsense because:
> 1. it is sloppy. If the work is significant, explain why - tell the
> story; do as Jen does and explain why others should recognise it as
> valuable;
> 2. it debases the currency. If every minor discovery is a
> "breakthrough,"  what do you have left for Marshall and Warren or
> Frazier when they come along?
> 3. if you get something really substantial and call it a breakthrough,
> how is it distinguishable for the puff-pieces that surround it
> describing minor work in the same terms?
> 4. it certainly doesn't "work" with many editors, who view it with scorn
> and discard the releases;
> 5. cliches of any kind are irritating. The media are full of them, and
> they are often hyperbolic to a ludicrous degree, as when a "tragedy"
> describes someone missing a goal or some sporting "hero" pulling a
> hamstring;
> 6. we ought to be encouraging science communicators to communicate well.
> Communicating in cliches is not doing that.
> They almost always diminish the power of a story and suggest a writer's
> mind assembling verbal lego rather than writing well. The media are full
> of them. Any accident in a small town seems immediately to turn it into
> a "close-knit community," and do you ever see anyone reported of dying
> from cancer who hasn't died "after a long battle with cancer?" Sporting
> teams get :"bundled out" while gangsters are "gunned down." Australia's
> outback environment is invariably "harsh" when it is not "fragile" and,
> like me, you probably never want to hear again that South Australia is
> the "driest state in the driest continent." etc etc. Even writers of
> letters to the editor seem oddly afflicted by the feeling that writing
> for the media almost requires cliches. Where else these days do you read
> "Methinks" or "It never ceases to amaze me..." but in letters to the Editor?
> Rob

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