Reasons to avoid Today

the Radio show, that is. I was listening this morning, as I usually don’t, and caught the news that Craig Venter’s dog has had its genome sequenced. I hope they did it properly. In any case, it was announced that the dog had had “the blueprint for its genetic makeup” analysed. This is wrong in so many ways: genes aren’t blueprints for organisms, and even if they were, the genome isn’t a blueprint for the genes. But I liked the idea of a genetic makeup, and drifted off into fantasies about the women’s pages of the future: Martha’s lips are the product of SEXBOMB3 from Sulston Biochem; her eyes are shadowed by GARBO4 from Monsanto, and so on. Of course this will never happen. The most we can ever hope for is not funny at all: Elise gets her wonderfully prominent cheekbones from BRCA2.

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2 Responses to Reasons to avoid Today

  1. qB says:

    I loath and excoriate the standard of science coverage on the Today prog (and the media in general). It nauseates me how presenters who would not dream of admitting they didn’t understand politics or history or economics feel it’s ok to claim lack of understanding of science in a manner that more resembles pride than shame. The coverage of the MMR vaccine debate in particular was shockingly biased and unprofessional and showed a total lack of interest in overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of frequent grandstanding appearances by those with no evidence to back their fallacious claims. I used to wonder whether Rod Liddell had a bee in his bonnet about the subject, but the approach continued after he left. I now suspect John Humphries of recent(ish) re-fatherhood fame of being the one with a stinger in his headgear.

  2. Rupert says:

    Private Eye also has a Local Group sized blind spot when it comes to matters scientific – especially the MMR business. Who’s Boffin, anyway?

    As for the BBC… they phone me up from time to time to do spots of punditry on IT matters. Sometimes this bleeds over into more scientific areas, such as the (now quiescent, even though there’s some interesting science finally being done) cellphone radiation scare. Last time was when someone found Nokia’s patents for low-radiation designs and said “Oooh, there must be something dangerous going on otherwise they wouldn’t do this, would they?”. Er, no, of course not. Any company worth its salt would have something like this up its sleeve in case the law changes, for whatever reason. “So it’s not really a story then…” said the reporter as he canned it, albeit with an understandable degree of irritation. In similar situations, the story has gone to air with someone more to the reporter’s taste after I’d tried to be unsensationalist. If there was a greater awareness of basic science in the newsroom, such stories wouldn’t get to the point where excising them is a problem.

    Thing is, if everyone else is running a story you know to be rubbish, it’s a hard call. Do you run it even though it’s a non-story? Do you ignore it, and leave the readers wondering why they missed it when their pals talk about the story in the pub that evening? I quite like the Guardian’s Bad Science column, which picks apart bits of nonsense in the media (although they’ve given up on the Obs’ Barefoot Doctor), but it’s not the done thing to dib in your mates. I have been moved to email Victor Keegan recently when one of the new hires had been particularly blatently PR’d.

    The exception to the no-backstabbing rule is, of course, the Eye. Which makes it doubly sad that it’s quite so artsgrad about the whole business.


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