The Sherrod Event reminded me of this talk given by Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson at St Petersburg College, Florida, 2009, which I liken to the need to apply scientific rigor in journalism – know of what you speak, know of what is spoken, before you move to action. For example, WWWWW – Who, What, Where, When Why…now replaced by WWWBS –
World Wide Web, Blogs, Soundbytes…
In response to a question about UFOs – Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, skilfully and articulately developed a response that in the context of Sherrod, could be seen as a lesson in the “science of journalism” as opposed to science journalism.
The video clip that created the avalanche of events around Ms Sherrod, was like the U – in UFO – unidentified, unchecked with rigor. When we do not know, we engender, what Dr Tyson calls – “Arguments from Ignorance. Humans are uncomfortable steeped in ignorance so they move quickly from an abject statement of ignorance to an abject statement of certainty, which in the Sherrod case led to abject actions from ignorance. He stated that “If you don’t know what IT is, then that’s where the conversation should stop”!
He reminded us that the lowest form of evidence is eyewitness (and ear witness, my addition) testimony. There is a failure in human perception that leads to poor data taking/analysis and evaluation, a classic example of GIGO. When the evidence derives from ignorance, scientific rigor (and journalistic rigor) are negatively impacted, resulting in, as regards journalism, what came crashing through our television sets, computers, cell phones, airwaves, satellites – the “Sherrod Asteroid”.
How can an astrophysicist help us get to the science of journalism, and not only focus on science journalism? Shouldn’t our journalists apply scientific rigor to the news they report? If not, then, what?
I say, turn Dr Tyson loose on all of them!!!