The following is a (lightly edited) excerpt from Wikitribune’s editorial guidelines for science stories, written by myself an others over the past few months. You can read the original here. If anyone wants to use or adapt this for journalism education, feel free to contact me.
Choosing a Topic
Good types of studies to report on include:
- Large secondary studies (e.g. systematic literature reviews, meta-analyses, systematic mapping studies), which summarize what is known about a topic and the strength of evidence for different claims.
- New, exciting breakthroughs. For these, avoid over-hyping claims and pay close attention to limitations (see Part 2). Scientists avoid making strong recommendations based on a single study.
- Old, interesting studies that never received the attention they deserved, or have new relevance due to current events. For example, this 1995 article showed that protein rich foods are not actually more filling than carbohydrate-rich foods, debunking the premise of the Atkins diet, but received little media attention.
- Studies from fields that get less media attention including chemistry, criminology, engineering (except robotics and aerospace), geography, linguistics, management, social work and sociology.
Suggestions for Researching the Story
- Read the entire paper, not just the abstract.
- Contact the author(s). Give them a chance to let you know if you have correctly interpreted the study results.
- Get a second (and third, and fourth) opinion on the significance of the paper from one or more experts in the area who do not have a conflict of interest with the author(s); for instance, co-authoring a paper or working at the same university.
- Look for how the study fits into existing research. Is this part of a larger body of research? Is a consensus emerging, or are findings mixed?
- Avoid using non-peer-reviewed journals where possible. Predatory journals are known to publish misleading information.
Continue reading “Editorial Guidelines for Science Journalism”
Have you seen some “tips to spot fake news” on your Facebook newsfeed recently?
Over the past year, the social media company has been scrutinized for influencing the US presidential election by spreading fake news (propaganda). Obviously, the ability to spread completely made-up stories about politicians trafficking child sex slaves and imaginary terrorist attacks with impunity is bad for democracy and society.
Something had to be done.
Continue reading “Facebook’s new anti-fake news strategy is not going to work – but something else might”
On January 30 – three days after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries – an American scientist employed by NASA was detained at the US border until he relinquished his phone and PIN to border agents. Travellers are also reporting border agents reviewing their Facebook feeds, while the Department of Homeland Security considers requiring social media passwords as a condition of entry.
Intimidating travellers into revealing passwords is a much greater invasion of privacy than inspecting their belongings for contraband.
Technology pundits have already recommended steps to prevent privacy intrusion at the US border, including leaving your phone at home, encrypting your hard drive and enabling two-factor authentication. However, these steps only apply to US citizens. Visitors need a totally different strategy to protect their private information.
Continue reading “How to protect your private data when you travel to the United States.”
Paul Ralph, University of Auckland
Do you really believe that watching a lecturer read hundreds of PowerPoint slides is making you smarter?
I asked this of a class of 105 computer science and software engineering students last semester.
An article in The Conversation recently argued universities should ban PowerPoint because it makes students stupid and professors boring. I agree entirely. However, most universities will ignore this good advice because rather than measuring success by how much their students learn, universities measure success with student satisfaction surveys, among other things.
What is so wrong with PowerPoint?
Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that Continue reading “Why universities should get rid of PowerPoint and why they won’t”
Heartbleed, the bug that has preoccupied thousands of websites and millions of users over the past week, may well have been the biggest security flaw in internet history but it is unlikely to be the last.
Our entire security infrastructure is a mess because both ordinary people and elite security experts often harbour fundamental misunderstandings about security, design and privacy.
Heartbleed is a bug in OpenSSL, a library used by programmers to encrypt data on the web. Hackers may have used the bug to find your password for Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yahoo and possibly thousands of other websites.
Security Guru Bruce Schneier has called the situation “catastrophic” – an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. And the craziest part is, Heartbleed is so simple that you can explain how it works in a six-panel comic strip. Continue reading “Heartbleed patched but security time bomb is still ticking”
This post was originally published by The Conversation on 13 November 2013.
Healthcare.gov – the web-based manifestation of Obamacare – launched last month to numerous and widely-publicised problems including long wait times, corrupted data and nonfunctional buttons.
Although it was widely portrayed as an unprecedented fiasco, significant problems, and even catastrophic failures, are actually very common in large and complex IT projects.
Just last year, the US Air Force abandoned one system after already spending $1 billion. In Australia, a defective data exchange in the court information system led to 22 false arrests. In 2010, a data entry bug led 25 organ donors losing the wrong organs.
We’ve seen Google classifying all websites as malicious and even a computer virus suspected in the deaths of 154 Spanair passengers.
While Healthcare.gov’s specific faults do differ from the previous examples, the underlying problem is the same: the combination of size and complexity. Continue reading “Obamacare web fiasco won’t be the last big IT fail”
This article was originally published in the July issue of Website Magazine.
When you aim for a creative solution — not simply an incremental improvement, but a real innovation — you pick a fight with your own brain. A vast array of systematic deviations from optimal reasoning, which psychologists call “cognitive biases,” conspire to subvert your creativity. Here are six bias-infused errors you may recognize.
1. It’s not my fault, it’s default…
Defaults matter. Just ask Continue reading “Does cognitive bias kill creativity?”
The following article was originally published in the SD Times.
Requirements engineering is like unicorn hunting. It sounds good, but it simply isn’t real. Requirements, like unicorns, are a myth. But unlike unicorns, requirements are dangerous. Continue reading “Why system requirements are a dangerous illusion”
(this piece was originally published on The Wall on 24 August 2012)
Are we headed for the Gamepocalypse – a dystopia where everyone earns meaningless points for every activity from watching television to shopping to riding the bus? Doubtful, as earning meaningless points isn’t much fun on its own. Why then are marketers’ attempts at gamification so focused on meaningless points?
Gamification sounds easy enough: translate business objectives into desired customer behaviour, use a points system to link behaviours to virtual rewards and free swag, throw in some social media integration and voila, profit. As games are fun and motivating, making our customer interactions more game-like will make our customers happier and more motivated. While essentially sound, contemporary gamification approaches exhibit three common flaws – 1) they are tedious rather than fun; Continue reading “The three horseman of the gamepocalypse”
Proponents of Agile development have long argued that users are not capable of clearly stating a comprensive, accurate, consistent set of requirements for a desired system. The truth is more problematic. Most software projects have no requirements to state – at least, that is theme of new research in Requirements Engineering.
Suppose we’ve been hired by a hospital. The hospital has just finished digitizing all patient records. Physicians need to access patient records on the computers in examination rooms but, due to privacy legislation, records must be visible only to the physicians. That is, a nosey patient shouldn’t be able to read someone else’s information over the physician’s shoulder. Based on this description, we devise two approaches – 1) information is displayed using codes that only physicians can decipher; 2) a matching pair of filter screens and glasses installed such that the screen can only be read by someone wearing the glasses. The requirements, therefore, are the features common to both approaches. Filter-glasses, for example, are not required because the secret codes approach doesn’t need them.
The first problem is that Continue reading “How software developers suffer from the illusion of requirements”