A science story from The Hindu that I sent in to the Science Journalism Tracker

The Hindu, the venerable Indian newspaper that I grew up reading (and that first introduced me to science journalism), still continues to publish plenty of science stories both online and in print. I found out about one of their recent stories on turning “light into matter” not from the story itself (which was quite confusing) but due to a response from The Hindu’s Reader’s Editor.

In his post, the Reader’s Editor A.S. Panneerselvan (whose name is misspelled in the post itself…) mentioned a bad example used in the science story and went on to state that there was some “fundamental distinction between writing about social sciences and science.” To quote:

“The fundamental difference between writing about social sciences and science and technology is in the use of analogous examples to explain and elucidate a point or a view. While employing an analogous example enriches our understanding in social sciences, it may backfire as in the case of Subashree’s report because of extreme specificity of each subject. An analogy in a science story forces the writer to add annotations and afterwards to explain the intended meaning. Being a science journalist is demanding. It is not easy to explain Albert Einstein’s work in the language of Ernest Hemingway.”

I took objection to this, and commented as much:

“…to me the issue is less about some fundamental difference about writing about science versus social science, and more of using an inaccurate or unclear analogy rather than one that clarifies a complex subject. I think a badly-picked analogy could be just as confusing in a complicated social science story, and there are certainly no dearth of science stories where a well-chosen analogy clarifies rather than confuses.”

I also sent it to the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, which tracks and comments on science stories, as I thought it’d be interesting to get their take on it.

The Tracker’s Charlie Petit does an excellent job commenting both on the original story and the Reader’s Editor’s response.

1 comment to A science story from The Hindu that I sent in to the Science Journalism Tracker

Leave a Reply