Tag Archives: Petra Boynton

Science journalism: a row

This week is the World Conference of Science Journalists (#WCSJ). This is what the Independent’s Steve Connor had to say in an article entitled ‘Lofty medics should stick to their day job.’

“The sixth World Conference of Science Journalists is underway in London. I can’t say it’s going to change my life, as I missed out on the previous five, but I did notice that it has attracted the attention of a bunch of medics with strong views on the state of science journalism today.”

Connor picked up on a gathering advertised by Ben Goldacre (a post-event meet-up on July 1 with  Petra Boynton and Vaughan Bell) and quoted Goldacre’s website, labelling him as the ‘bête noir’ of science journalists.

“All three speakers are gainfully employed by the public sector so they don’t actually have to worry too much about the sort of pressures and financial constraints the mainstream media are under. But they nevertheless condescended to offer some advice on the sort of ‘best practice guidelines’ I should be following, for which I suppose I should be eternally grateful.

“But their arrogance is not new. Medical doctors in particular have always had a lofty attitude to the media’s coverage of their profession, stemming no doubt from the God-like stance they take towards their patients. Although I wouldn’t go as far as to say their profession is broken, dangerous, lazy, venal and silly – not yet anyway.”

Ouch. Goldacre spotted it and comments beneath his post, and Connor’s article, are flowing pretty fast. Goldacre also reproduces a letter and email sent to the Independent, on his blog.

  • Here’s the letter sent to the Independent (unpublished as yet):

Dear Sir,

Your science journalist Steve Connor is furious that we are holding a small public meeting in a pub to discuss the problem that science journalists are often lazy and inaccurate. He gets the date wrong, claiming the meeting has already happened (it has not). He says we are three medics (only one of us is). He then invokes some stereotypes about arrogant doctors, which we hope are becoming outdated.

In fact, all three of us believe passionately in empowering patients, with good quality information, so they can make their own decisions about their health. People often rely on the media for this kind of information. Sadly, in the field of science and medicine, on subjects as diverse as MMR, sexual health, and cancer prevention, the public have been repeatedly and systematically misled by journalists.

We now believe this poses a serious threat to public health, and it is sad to see the problem belittled in a serious newspaper. Steve Connor is very welcome to attend our meeting, which is free and open to all,


(Drs) Vaughan Bell, Petra Boynton, Ben Goldacre

In other WCSJ news, Goldacre wasn’t too happy with the panel addressing science and investigative journalism yesterday. He tweeted from the event: “so what about investigative science journalism done by bloggers? not a single person addressed the question. these ppl need to read more.”