No small amount of the commentary is about how when journalists pick "interesting" bits out of research reports to construct a "story" they often create big distortions in the social knowledge-base.
So what can reporters do when trying to explain the significance of new research, without getting trapped by a poorly-supported sound bite?
Sherman Dorn has an excellent post on the case, "When reporters use (s)extrapolation as sound bites," that ends with some advice:
- "If a claim could be removed from the paper without affecting the other parts, it is more likely to be a poorly-justified (s)implification/(s)extrapolation than something that connects tightly with the rest of the paper."
- "If a claim is several orders of magnitude larger than the data used for the paper (e.g., taking data on a few schools or a district to make claims about state policy or lifetime income), don’t just reprint it. Give readers a way to understand the likelihood of that claim being unjustified (s)extrapolation."
- "More generally, if a claim sounds like something from Freakonomics, hunt for a researcher who has a critical view before putting it in a story."
See also Matthew Di Carlo on ShankerBlog, Bruce Baker on SchoolFinance 101, and Cedar Reiner on Cedar's Digest