Science journalism: Beyond phony balance - Uganda - November 2012

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Presentation by Sharon Schmickle, Science Journalist, Minnesota
Delivered at the B4FA Media Dialogue Workshop, Kampala, Uganda - November 2012
www.b4fa.org

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Science journalism: Beyond phony balance - Uganda - November 2012

  1. 1. Beyond phony balance A little knowledge can go a long way in terms of evaluating claims.
  2. 2. 1side + 1side = Confusion Is cigarette smoking harmful to health?  Yes  No  Maybe  Maybe not  All of the above
  3. 3. Example from crop genetics The claim: GMOs cause mysterious and dangerous allergies. One side: Yes Other side: No Reader/viewer: Torn between the two.
  4. 4. Not so mysterious after all Experts were available to explain the nature of allergens. Journalists who bothered to find them became the front runners in coverage of the story.
  5. 5. In a nutshell    A new gene often prompts the plan to produce a new protein. (Not always; sometimes an existing gene simply is switched on or off.) A protein causes an allergic reaction under certain conditions that depend on the form of the protein and the sensitivity of the consumer. A particular protein can and should be analyzed before the GM plant is approved for release.
  6. 6. Bottom line It was inaccurate to say that all GM foods were potential allergy bombs.
  7. 7. End of story? No. Journalists still want to ask regulators whether a new GM plant has been analyzed as a potential allergen.
  8. 8. Key point Check it out

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