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.