Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Scientific Reporting/Journalism in the UK?

The topic of yesterdays post, self-awareness in asian elephants, seemed to be a popular one in the British media. I myself first heard about the paper on the BBC Science website, which gave a concise breakdown of the contents, and included an interview (albeit cutdown) with one of the authors and an expert from another research institute. All round a reasonable summary I felt, which provided links to the original source and which kept the work in context. However, yesterday evening I watched the Channel 5 news, which also had a short piece on the research. It showed the young asian elephant in front of the mirror playing around, which was fair enough from the 'ahh isn't it cute, lets not turn over from this channel yet' point of view. However, the voice-over description of the work was in my humble view bordering on the farcical. Ok, they mentioned the phrase 'self-awareness' once (I think it was just the once though...), but then spent the rest of the report making comments along the lines of "scientists have discovered a vanity streak in elephants", and (referring to the cross placed above the elephants eye which one of the youngsters kept touching on herself, thus indicating self-awareness) "as you can see, she keeps touching the cross with her trunk: maybe she just doesn't like the style...". These aren't direct quotes, but they indicate the tone of the report. You might of course say that I'm being overly picky and critical, and that the journalist responsible was trying to pitch the story at us, the great unwashed (the general public), but from what I saw, there was no meaningful content other than pictures of cute little elephants. I didn't see the BBC tv news version, but I like to think that they did a better job of it. Yes, I'm a BBC snob... :-p

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