[ASC-list] Was and probably still is Statins but more like balanced science reporting

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Tue Nov 12 23:16:48 UTC 2013

There are two major but distinct issues being played out.

1. Are statins overprescribed - and the answer most likely is yes and we need to have that conversation.

2. Was Catalyst a very poor piece of science reporting. And for me the answer is clearly yes. It failed in so many ways. And as a result it muddied and polarised the conversation about statins. 

Focussing on Catalyst for the moment. Two things seem to have gone wrong. 

Firstly the reporter was captured by her story. I think she became evangelistic and lost perspective. That happens. But good editorial processes fix that. And that's the second failure. Something's seriously broken at ABC Science that allowed these programs to go to air in the form that they did. This is probably a resource issue. Perhaps the Science Unit is so under-resourced that everyone is heads down focussed on their own output and no-one's talking to each other and sharing ideas and concerns. 

That for me is a worry. We depend on ABC science both for their direct coverage and also for their influence on the rest of the ABC. 



Niall Byrne
Science in Public    
0417 131 977, niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
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-----Original Message-----
From: ASC-list [mailto:asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Susan Kirk
Sent: Wednesday, 13 November 2013 9:10 AM
To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: [ASC-list] Was and probably still is Statins but more like balanced science reporting

Renato raises some really good points. "Is everything (no exceptions) in 'science' subject to question/ critique/ challenge? Is this one of the defining criteria of 'science'?"

I think science has to be questioned.  Life evolvesŠ.our knowledge evolves..science evolvesŠ.That's not a linear statement either.

Renato concurs with what I raised in a previous email.  Whose evidence is it?  Why their evidence and not Joe Blow?

Without naming names I will give you an example.  There is one scientist in a specialised area, that always has the same viewpoint.  It never changes.
She is living in a time warp.  Her thought processes never change. She lives by her premise, even when it is changing and her colleagues are saying it is changing. If I give her space on the page, will that be balanced?  Well it depends on what you think balance in the context of reporting is.

Balance is a process of reporting that has its roots in media law and ethics.  It's not an outcome per se.

For example, Mr Y said this about you or a subject you've written about what do you say Mr Z?  That's the process underlined by the ethics and the legality of giving the other side the right to retort.  If you don't you're in trouble (legally, ethically).

That's not balance, how could it be, two opposing opinions do not make balance, that's a debate.  In the case of the statin reporting, balance was
lacking?  Really, how?   The statin hypotheses stands.  Catalyst was going
after the 'other' opinion.  If you think about 'balanced' reporting the statin hypotheses was not balanced.  Did catalyst try and get other 'expert'
opinions to balance the reporting.  Yes they did but these experts refused to comment.  

Does the public have the right to know this information is (one of) the criteria for journalism and I think typifies what balance means.  Balance means that the public knows both sides.  If the journalist can't get both sides then give either side and let the people decide. That, I believe, is what happened here.

Toss also raises some points about non specialists reporting on science.
This is something I have grappled with for a long time.  Am I looking for a debate on the science when I report it.  No I'm looking to understand it.
The more people I speak to the more I understand it.  There are many people that influence our reality, balance is about incorporating all those perspectives, and then deciding what's right and it's not my job to decide whether that is right for the public.

This brings me to the changing face of journalism.  Everyone's a journalist now.  I had someone question my use of a media release on twitter this morning.  You're plagiarising was the assumption. Even though I make it quite clear on my website that it is a media release and written by the 'editor' He doesn't know the rules.  Do I have to educate him?  Did I spend
7 years at university to be a professional to be questioned by amateurs?  Is this what is at the heart of all this discussion.  Having your (statin) science and credibility questioned? To be undermined by lesser minds?

Now back to the mitochondria....


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