December 7, 2009

Why You Can't Trust the New York Times on Education (or anything scientific for that matter)

Erica Goode, the NYT environment editor, admits the NYT doesn't understand science:

“We here at The Times are not scientists. We don’t collect the data or analyze it, and so the best we can do is to give our readers a sense of what the prevailing scientific view is, based on interviews with scientists” and the expertise of reporters...


That comment came in response to the recent Climategate scandal which the Times has not unexpectedly underreported.  But. it also explains why the Times gets so many education stories wrong too.


Tracy W said...

What's the problem with this? Did you think that journalists understood science beforehand? Remember that "understand science" is an awfully big task, I don't think anyone can do that. Lots of people understand some areas of science, but those people tend to make some silly statements when they talk outside their own area, for example physicists when talking about economics tend to assume a perfect government, a stage that economics moved past about 30 years ago.
I don't like it, but I think we are doomed to science reporting by scientists who don't really understand what they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

The real story with "climategate" is that climate change deniers will go to any lengths to denounce the truth. Liars, every single one of them. You too, if you're on their side.

Unknown said...

Anon at 7:55:

I am interested in the truth on Climategate.

I found Steven Hayward's long piece in the Weekly Standard to be well supported.

Richard S Lindzen's article in the Wall Street Journal also made good sense.

Could you illuminate us with specifics on the "lies" you see in Climategate? We understand that climates by their very nature change as it is a complex, dynamic system.

We are especially interested in why you are sure that any warming is manmade.

The holiday season is such a good time for a quality science lesson.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear God. I am so sick of people using their education blogs as a forum for their political views. I am a left-leaning teacher who rejects progressive education ideas. So I look for those who take a more traditional view. And when I find blogs or forums that do, it is only a matter of time before I find myself in the company of right-wing nuts. Ken, please understand that any time you self-indulgently stray off topic and start talking about climate change, gun control, or whatever your heart desires, you become part of the problem. I didn't appreciate going to ed school and having them try to indoctrinate me into liberalism (instead of training me as a teacher), and I don't appreciate it when the right-wing does precisely the same thing. I know a blog is not an ed program, but the problem is the same.

Unknown said...


What specifically do you think turned this into an inappropriate political discussion?

I think the common discussion is really about what constitutes well supported evidence for an assertion of fact or opinion and when something is more a matter of faith without sufficient empirical evidence.

That's a problem in K-12 education and it may have been a problem in Climate Gate. Factual discussions of related policy areas are important whenever it appears that government may be pushing bad policy through misinformation.

We only get to determine what is misinformation by talking about it and sharing resources.

What's not educational about that?

Anonymous said...

What specifically turned this into an inappropriate political discussion is the switching of subjects from how to fix our horribly broken education system to a discussion of climate change. No mystery there.

The notion that we can find some link between issues that legitimizes such a switch is a familiar dodge. I'm not saying you are using that Robin, but its an old ploy. Here the supposed connection is the use of empirical evidence to support positions. Sure, that is an important discussion and the same problem plagues education. But when that is taken to "you can't trust anything the NYT says on education because they are wrong on climate change," you have gone far afield and have hijacked a debate on education and switched it to your own purposes. There are many other examples you could give that have nothing to do with hot-button political issues. My favorite example of this is a magazine for classical educators that featured a discussion of logic that just happened to use gay marriage as an example. No agenda there, now was there? I don't like coming to a discussion of education and having discussions of health care and climate change foisted upon me. Again, I hated going to a teacher education program and having that program hijacked by a left wing agenda. It is dishonest and an imposition.

You ask, "what's not educational about that?" Well, in such broad terms, nothing. But that doesn't say much. Slamming your finger in the car door can also be very educational, for that matter. What does that have to do with fixing our schools?

Bottom line: stick with the topic. We ought to be able to talk intelligently about improving education without having to discuss our gun collections, rail against evolution and gay marriage and immigrants, or to desperately link eduction to every other issue under the sun. Sometimes the "reformers" show us how deep the problems are.

Anonymous said...

The larger problem here is what to do when you lean left but reject progressive education. You quickly find yourself displaced. I don't buy into constructivism, project "learning," and multiple intelligences. When I try to find better training or to discuss how to improve schools by renewing a more traditional approach, I find myself being bombarded with political propaganda with only tenuous connections to the problem at hand.

For education to improve, like-minded people need to find common ground to work together. When people self-indulgently force their own broad political agenda into the education debate, they destroy that common ground and bring the process to a halt. They become a significant part of the problem. Focus on education. If the teacher education programs had done that, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Norcross schools said...

Hats off to Robin. And you didn't even crinkle your forehead.

Now, back to the NYT and scientific reporting. Journalism in general has turned into a vocation of propaganda. Let's face it, it is easier to take the position of "well, we're just journalists," especially when large holes have been shot through your ozone layers of reality.

The school issue, like science, will only be investigated to the level of alignment with their personal beliefs and/or agenda.

In both cases, laziness and a lack of professional curiosity and processes leave the truth hanging, somewhere just out of reach.