On "Journalism" and "Science Education"

This is a rant post.

I “read” the cnn.com article today about the Alaska “Volcano” that might go “kablooie” soon. The second sentence “annoyed” the crap out of me.

Why? Here’s the “quote”:

The Alaska Volcano Observatory said in a statement Friday “volcanic tremor” has increased in “amplitude.”

Why, oh why, do we have to quotate things like “volcanic tremor” and “amplitude”. Especially “volcanic tremor”. Shit, people. Everybody knows what a volcano is and everybody knows what a tremor is, and if they don’t they can bloody well figure it out from context! I’ll give them a bit of leeway for quotating “amplitude” but not much. We’re reading the science section on an internet website. If a person doesn’t know what “amplitude” means, they can google it. This is not 1899 anymore.

Grrr. Seriously, those quotes say to me, “our readers are too dumb to know what these words mean. We better use quotes because we’re not using the words as a part of the science article, we’re quoting a really smart dude who knows way more than us.”

If journalists want to write for the lowest common denominator, they need to read this first, and then start writing accordingly.

This entry was posted in Rant. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On "Journalism" and "Science Education"

  1. Annie says:

    Or at least they could read the MSN piece by Martha Brockenbrough about abusing quotation marks.

    I actually just read that piece the other day – it was linked off the MSN front page.

  2. James Cronen says:

    I’m going to venture a guess here that those quotation marks don’t mean what you think they mean.

    I think the CNN.com author was being a little too faithful in quoting her/his source material, rather than intimating that the casual reader doesn’t understand such concepts as amplitude.

    From the CNN article:

    The Alaska Volcano Observatory said in a statement Friday “volcanic tremor” has increased in “amplitude.”

    I think CNN is not very gracefully quoting the statement that the Alaska Volcano Observatory released. (I tried to find the statement to prove myself right, but I was unable to.)

    Similarly, the headline:

    Alaska volcano ‘more energetic,’ scientists say

    Here, the quotes around “more energetic” don’t serve to indicate that we don’t know what that means, just that it’s a direct quotation from the scientists.

    I think they probably would have quoted the entire thing but they felt they needed to simplify whatever was there before to “has increased in”.

    But sometimes quotation marks are unwieldy, and this is certainly a case of that. Probably would have been better to just leave them out entirely rather than quote a scientist’s press release two words at a time. I’m sure the scientists would understand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>