Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wondering When Arthur Brisbane, NYT's New Public Editor, Will Debut? Well, Guess What -- He Already Did.

Last Tuesday evening, the NYT's new public editor Arthur Brisbane quietly posted his first attack on his new employer -- aiming, he confesses, directly into dangerous territory for a new media critic.

"The new public editor’s blog opens with an entry in the field of science, something my mama told me never to do," Brisbane says.

Undaunted by maternal warnings, Brisbane launched his blog with a tough-minded and accurate analysis of Gina Kolata's blockbuster August 10 page-one story on a new, promising test for Alzheimer's disease.

Brisbane's column -- called "The Trouble With Absolutes" -- points out that the story subhead's claim of "100 percent accuracy" was false. He also says Kolata's lede falsely communicated the possibility that healthy patients can now be tested for possible Alzheimer's Disease with pinpoint precision.

"The problem with these two elements – subhead and lead – is that they create the clear impression that here is a test that will enable you to walk into your doctor’s office and find out with 100% accuracy whether you will get Alzheimer’s," Brisbane says.

Brisbane's right. Kolata's story should have been more precise in its wording and more careful in its use of declarative statements suggesting a breakthrough. It's a danger inherent in science reporting and one that even reporters with Kolata's experience can make.

Welcome, Art! An auspicious start. You done your mama proud.


Anonymous said...

Hype, exaggeration, simplification and plain misstatements of fact are why so many scientists despair of having their research written up in a newspaper.
They increasingly sacrifice their reticence, however, because there is so much pressure these days on them to reap publicity for their work in order ot attract more grants and money.
A real Hobson's choice at times...

Anonymous said...

That's how investors like it, that how pharma likes it, that's how biotech likes it: academic researchers doing the dirty leg work funded by the public, and lured into superstardom a penny and a journalistic lap dance at a time to jump to conclusions and write juiced up glitz.

Now they're setting up Brisbane to be the fall guy.

Anonymous said...

the topic of absolutes seems better suited to the standards editor than to the public editor, i think.

Anonymous said...

The article was obsessed with curing Alzheimers Too bad the article didn't concentrate on toxins that cause Alzheimers.

Anonymous said...

Does the author of the article have a personal involvement with Alzheimer's that might cloud her impartiality?

Ken Cady said...

It's so very nice of the nytpicker to agree with Mr.Brisbane's first criticism. I hope he is comforted to know that he got it right. Why could you not have just told the story without injecting your opinion on it?
The arrogance does not flatter you.