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The best and worst science stories revealed Peter Griffin Aug 04

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The Media7 science special just screened on TVNZ7 and included the section on the best and worst science stories of the last year – as decided by the Scibloggers and you, the Sciblogs readers.

Thanks so much for your submissions – many of the stories won’t appear in the lists below, but we gave due consideration to all entries and had to be ruthless in getting down to the top 5 in each category.

Congratulations to those reporters and media organisations that ended up on the “best of” list. For those on the “worst of” list, hey, we all have our bad days. I was a journalist for long enough, I had enough of my own. The key is to look at what went wrong and what can be learnt for the future. What it shouldn’t mean is to put science stories in the “too hard” basket. If you are doing the story for the right reasons and applying the proper journalistic rigour, the audience will appreciate that.

Best of…

1. Too hot to handle – An excellent New Zealand Listener cover story that looks at the scientific evidence on vitamin D and our health balanced against the need to avoid skin cancer by limiting our exposure to the sun. A wide range of views are canvassed here. A n excellent summary of a complex science-related issue. November 13, 2010 (Ruth, Laugesen, New Zealand Listener)

2. Ken Ring’s quake theories – how scientific are they? – An effort to put things right after the disastrous Campbell Live interview and a good example of how science can actually be explained properly with the right dose of “balance” achieved, in a relatively short TV piece. March (Tristram Clayton, TV3)

3. Animal death toll ends cloning trials – A story that looked at the discontinuation of cloning trials at an Agresearch facility. Not only was it a great front page scoop that relied on the reporter seeking documents under the Official Information Act, but the science-related details were dealt with carefully and were well translated for a general audience. February 21, 2011 (Kiran Chug, Dominion Post)

4. The Climate dissenter holds his ground – An in-depth piece looking at University of Auckland scientist associate professor Chris de Freitas, and the seemingly skewed nature of his teachings on climate change. A piece that highlights the issues that emerge when scientists reject the consensus view of science and do so under the banner of ’academic freedom’. July 16, 2011 (Chris Barton, New Zealand Herald)

5. The case for vaccination – A thorough, absorbing read in North & South that looks at the science behind vaccination, the commonly held beliefs around the lack of safety of vaccines and the impact of diseases such as measles and meningitis which are to a large extent avoidable through vaccination. Thoroughly researched and well-written. June 2010 (Joanna Wane, North & South)

Worst of…

1. Living Proof - 60 Minutes piece on the treatment with high dose vitamin C of a King Country farmer struck down with swine flu – A woeful piece of journalism where the crucial questions remained unanswered because the reporter failed to ask anyone with a scientific or medical background equipped to answer them.   August 16, 2010 (Melanie Reid, TV3)

2. Ken Ring – Moon man interviewed. John Campbell Campbell Live interview with earthquake predictor Ken Ring – not only an awful interview, but one where the presenter’s attempts to lay out the scientific evidence was flawed to the extent that it just served to confuse the audience – and win sympathy for Ken Ring. February 28, 2011 (John Campbell, TV3)

3. Fruit juice, apples linked to fetus harm – The findings of a Liggins Institute paper were misreported giving the alarmist impression that pregnant mothers could be harming their babies by drinking too much fruit juice or apples containing fructose – a natural sugar. In fact, the research really raised concerns about fructose contained in processed foods that had been artificially sweetened. Led to public confusion and a backlash from pregnant mothers. February 12, 2011 (Isaac Davison, New Zealand Herald)

4. Gassing fakes meat freshness – An alarmist front page lead story in the Sunday Star Times that raises concerns about meat preservation techniques that are widely used by the meat industry – but fails to get include any sources with scientific expertise who can actually explain what meat gassing is. A shonky story that sparked the Science Media Centre to actually find out from experts what the real risks there were, if any, from using this technique. February 6, 2011 (Lois Cairns, Sunday Star Times)

5. Two sides to a story – US quake predictor Jim Berkland was interviewed by Mark Sainsbury on Close Up just a few days before Ken Ring’s March 20 earthquake prediction. While Sainsbury followed up the interview with a live cross to a seismologist and psychologist in Christchurch, the interview with Jim Berkland saw many numerous points go unchallenged. It was inadequate interrogation of major claims, with the science completely sidelined, despite Berkland’s status as a former USBS scientist. An oft-repeated flaw in the treatment of science stories where psuedoscience is put up against established science with talking heads ’duking it out’.  March 17, 2011 (Mark Sainsbury, Close Up)

Media7 science special, best and worst stories Peter Griffin Aug 03

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It’s turning out to be a fairly science-heavy week what with the visit of famed British scientist Lord Winston, the Monckton side show on climate change and TVNZ7′s hour-long special on science, which airs tomorrow night.

Russell  Brown

Russell Brown

As you’ll know as a reader of Sciblogs, Media7 host Russell Brown asked us to ask you what you thought were some of the best and worst science stories of the last year, with a view to doing a David Letterma-esque countdown on the Media 7 show which screens tomorrow night at 9.05pm on TVNZ7 (available on Sky and Freeview).

After picking through a list that included some of the stories that attracted the most heated debate on Sciblogs (did someone mention that Ken Ring interview?), we dutifully submitted the list.

A friendly cameraman called by last week to film me giving a bit of background to the best and worst five stories. So check out the show tomorrow night and head back here to let us know what you think, what we missed and what you thought of the rest of the show.

Lord Robert, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, Dr Mike Joy (trhe scientist dumped on by the Prime Minister in that HARDtalk interview) are interviewed on the show.

Media7: Spotlight on Science special

9.05pm Thursday, August 4th

TVNZ7 (on Freeview and Sky, on TVNZ website and Youtube after airing)

Last chance to pick best and worst science stories Peter Griffin Jul 22

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Submissions close tomorrow for your list of the best and worst science stories of the last year – the results of which will be revealed on an uncoming Media7 science and innovation special. So drop us a line with your picks for the most cringe-worthy and impressive science reports of the last year – broadcast, print and online are all fine!

One of the key functions of journalism is to explain the world around us. Nowadays that is a job that increasingly requires the reporter to present complex science to the public.

media7Media 7 logoSometimes they get it right, but sometimes they get it wrong. Very, very wrong.

Media7 (a TVNZ7 panel discussion show hosted by Russell Brown) is in the middle of putting together an hour-long Science and Innovation Special to air on the 4th of August.

Russell and the team would like your input! They’re asking the SciBlogs community to help pick the five worst and the five best reported science stories of 2010/11 which will be presented as part of the special.

We’re asking that you email your two lists to the following email address — We also ask that you state your reasons why you think they deserve to be honoured in such a way.

- The stories can be from any medium

- The stories can be from anywhere in the world

- Please indicate if you do not want any part of your comments to be reproduced on the show

- Only stories that fall within the timeframe: 07/23/2010 — 07/23/2011 can be nominated

Peter Griffin

Sciblogs editor

Your picks for the best and worst science journalism Peter Griffin Jul 14

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One of the key functions of journalism is to explain the world around us. Nowadays that is a job that increasingly requires the reporter to present complex science to the public.

Media 7 logoSometimes they get it right, but sometimes they get it wrong. Very, very wrong.

Media7 (a TVNZ7 panel discussion show hosted by Russell Brown) is in the middle of putting together an hour-long Science and Innovation Special to air on the 4th of August.

Russell and the team would like your input! They’re asking the SciBlogs community to help pick the five worst and the five best reported science stories of 2010/11 which will be presented as part of the special.

We’re asking that you email your two lists to the following email address – . We also ask that you state your reasons why you think they deserve to be honoured in such a way.

- The stories can be from any medium

- The stories can be from anywhere in the world

- Please indicate if you do not want any part of your comments to be reproduced on the show

- Only stories that fall within the timeframe: 07/23/2010 – 07/23/2011 can be nominated

Peter Griffin

Sciblogs editor

How the media lost interest in Climategate Peter Griffin Aug 21

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I’ve blogged before about how climategate’s final act, in which three separate investigations largely exonerated the scientists concerned and reaffirmed the climate science, was under-reported by the New Zealand media compared to the explosion of coverage at the start.

Well, TVNZ’s Media7 show hosted by Russell Brown set out to find out just how much of a tail-off in coverage there was between November when the story broke with the leaking of the CRU emails to July when the Muir Russell review reported its findings.

Data visualisation guru Keith Ng used Meltwater News statistics to track references in key mainstream media outlets to “Climategate” in the period during which the climategate scandal was being covered, and also the period of its aftermath when the three separate review panels reported back.

Source: Keith Ng

Source: Keith Ng

This isn’t a perfect measure and you’d expect some disparity between the initial coverage of the sensational news that thousands of emails detailing climate scientists off-the-record discussions had been leaked, and the mopping up of the affair in dry review papers.

But the difference is quite marked for the majority of the media. The New Zealand Herald, TVNZ and TV3 really went to town on climategate between November and February, but coverage tailed off majorly after the fact.

Interestingly, Stuff, the website for the Fairfax newspapers, did as much reporting on Climategate’s aftermath as it did climategate itself.

Both Stuff and Radio New Zealand did comparatively less coverage of climategate overall than the other media outlets.

The statistics back up what we experienced at the Science Media Centre – huge interest in the initial leak and reaction to it in New Zealand – this lastest through COP15 and into the new year when NIWA released its temperature data for 2009 and the last decade.

Then a major tail-off in interest in the media as the reviews came in – no one was interested in covering it and most of the stories represented by the red bars above are  in fact international stories about the climategate reviews. I was only able to find one column in the Meltwater results, an editorial in the Gisborne Herald, analysing Climategate in the light of the exoneration of the scientists. That’s despite the flurry of columns written on the original leak of the emails, many of which predicted them constituting the “nail in the coffin” for the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

Here’s the Media7 show ‘Bridging the Gap’ where the data is discussed…

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