Thursday, October 25, 2012

L’Aquila Verdict Is A Typical Example Of How The Press And The Mass Media Misrepresent Events To Fit Simplistic Storylines And News Media Biases

From Scientific American Blog, "The L’Aquila Verdict: A Judgment Not against Science, but against a Failure of Science Communication" by David Ropeik:
A court in Italy has convicted six scientists and one civil defense official of manslaughter in connection with their predictions about an earthquake in l’Aquila in 2009 that killed 309 people. But, contrary to the majority of the news coverage this decision is getting and the gnashing of teeth in the scientific community, the trial was not about science, not about seismology, not about the ability or inability of scientists to predict earthquakes. These convictions were about poor risk communication, and more broadly, about the responsibility scientists have as citizens to share their expertise in order to help people make informed and healthy choices.

It is ludicrous and naïve for the American Association for the Advancement of Science to condemn the verdict, as they did the charges when they were filed, as a misunderstanding about the science behind earthquake probabilities. That this was never about the ability of seismologists to predict earthquakes is clear from the very indictment itself; the defendants were accused of giving "inexact, incomplete and contradictory information" about whether small tremors prior to the April 6 quake should have constituted grounds for a warning.

It was never about whether the scientists could or could not predict earthquakes. Even the leader of the 309 Martiri (309 Martyrs) who pressed for the case to be brought said so; Dr. Vincenzo Vittorini, who lost his wife and daughter in the quake, said back when the trial began "Nobody here wants to put science in the dock. We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices". [Emphasis added]
In the US, the fight by the Catholic churches to not have to pay for contraception becomes a mass media story about attacks against women's rights and not about the US government's infringement of the Constitution and religious rights. Arguments against taxing the rich in the news media become arguments against helping the needy by cutting funding and not about economic growth or the unfairness of taxing those who take risk and work harder to earn their money.

It is also seems that news organizations, news publications and most of the mass media all tell the same stories from the same point of view. The good guys are the good guys in most of the stories as are the bad guys. If there were much less herding by news organizations into very similar points of view, the public would be much better served and the public would get a much more accurate portrayal and subtle story of the facts. Many times in life, the story is not good against evil. The story is more likely about two conflicting goods that cannot co-exist in the situation. The press likes to pick sides despite their claims of neutrality and portray one side as better than the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment