After publishing an account of a field of physics accused of hype when some high-profile
claims were retracted, I was contacted by one of the field’s critics. He had declined
to be interviewed for my article, but nonetheless believed that it gave too prominent
a voice to those with whom he disagreed. When I explained that I had given him a chance
to put across his concerns directly, he replied that even if he had granted an interview,
all I would have done is “pick the quotes that make the most sense to you”. As I explained
to him, that is precisely what the job of a science reporter entails. Exchanges like
this are—for this science writer—extremely rare. Only if one ventures to report on
other academic turf does one truly come to appreciate with what extraordinary generosity,
patience, and clarity scientists typically share their expert advice. Most recognise
that, while reporters want to see science communicated as accurately and even-handedly
as possible, journalism creates constraints that are not always fully aligned with
those goals. They are usually grateful that a reporter has shown interest in their
work and wants their help to describe it accurately.
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