Academic journal article et Cetera

Journalism and the Scientific Method

Academic journal article et Cetera

Journalism and the Scientific Method

Article excerpt

GS GOES TO JOURNALISM SCHOOL

PHILIP MEYER, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, proposed journalists adopt scientific method in their reporting almost three decades ago. At the time, the scientific community embraced his idea, while only a few journalists took notice.

Since then, journalists have flocked to his way of thinking. Instead of calling it "Precision Journalism" - as his book was titled - journalists call their methods "computer-assisted reporting" or simply CAR.

Meyer defined precision journalism as "treating journalism as if it were a science, adopting scientific method, scientific objectivity and scientific ideals to the entire process of mass communication." This included conducting polls, analyzing data using statistical methods, and adopting a "disciplined search for verifiable truth."

Journalists already have many scientific traits, but may not realize it, Meyer wrote, including skepticism, openness, an instinct for operationalization, a sense of the tentativeness of truth, and parsimony.

He thought by using scientific method, journalists could help reduce superstition, build a more rational society, and send messages that would be received and understood better.

I was reminded of these ideas in Meyer's book as I read Johnson [People in Quandaries]. Specifically, Johnson talks about the need for scientific method as a "general method, as a basic orientation, as a generalized way of solving problems." Johnson believes many problems, or maladjustments, that people suffer from are directly the result of pre-scientific orientation, which is characterized by rigid thinking, vagueness in questions and answers, and improper use of abstraction.

Like Johnson, Meyer sees that a scientific approach requires the ability to be flexible because things are always changing [and a person needs to be skeptical] or suspicious about the generalizations he or she is making. Both scientists and journalists always need to test their theories to prove them wrong. Precision is the key.

A good investigative reporter not only seeks out evidence to support his or her hypothesis, but also evidence to refute it. Months of hard work could be wasted if the reporter overlooks something that contradicts his or her findings.

The scientist, as Johnson defines him, sounds a great deal like the traits considered redeemable for a journalist. He says a scientist "has a nose for the new, the exceptional, the fine shades of variation in the world about him and in himself and his social relationships."

Journalists who now use CAR techniques are going about their reporting - and ultimately telling readers their findings - on many levels of abstraction and with more open-mindedness than their predecessors. …

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