The Electric Commentary

Friday, June 18, 2004

Science and Journalism
We often hear stories in the news that center around themes like "Bush mispoke" and "kerry is longwinded." Eugene Volokh seems to have taken a particular dislike to these stories and dissected many of these claims made by sites like slate and spinsanity. I think that stories like these, like a lot of things, come down to the absence of scientific method. The facts are twisted to suit the theories rather than the theories twisted to suit the facts. If you start by theorizing that "Kerry's speech today will be long-winded" you will conclude, often erroneously, that many of his words were unnecessary but if you just take in the speech and form your theory later you will be forced to examine why he chose particular words and may come to a different conclusion. Volokh points out for example:
Kerry was asked:

Is the support for Roe v. Wade a critical point, a litmus test, for
court appointee you would make?

Kerry answered:

To the Supreme Court of the United States, yes.

The Kerryism edited version, which I assume is supposed to be equivalent
to Kerryism's original point but better put (remember their original
charter, which is "translat[ing]" Kerry's words "into plain English," by
removing "caveats and pointless embellishments") is:


But that's not what Kerry wanted to say! It would be a stupid thing to
say, both from a policy perspective (even if he firmly supports
constitutional abortion rights, why should he turn it into a litmus test
for district court judges?) and from a political perspective (if he does
set up such a broad litmus test even for district court judges, he'd look
like a fanatic).

Science, and its methods, seems to apply to journalism and news in the same way it applies to launching rockets and splitting atoms. If you do it in the right order, you get good science and good journalism. If you do it in the wrong order you get pseudoscience and pseudojournalism.


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