Some animals are more equal: The Orwellian prize for journalistic misrepresentation

Pulitzer be damned, this years most hotly contested prize*


Dorothy Bishop from the Department of Experiential Psychology at Oxford has suggested a new journalistic prize, the “Orwellian prize for journalistic misrepresentation” 

Dorothy has established the prize to help highlight how poorly the mainstream press reports on academic research. 

It is through the mainstream media that most people hear about science, but if these “gate keepers” get it wrong then the public is mislead our debates are all the poorer. 

Reporting on climate science is rife with such misrepresentations: whether it be unintentional or malicious (I’m looking at you Andrew Bolt and Terry McCrann), the end result is a grossly misinformed general public. 

Obviously this is something close to my heart and no doubt that of interested readers. I encourage people to make submissions, I have several examples I think worth submitting. 

Here are the rules: 

1. The article must purport to report results of academic research, and judgement will be based on a points scoring system, as follows: 

  • Factual error in the title: 3 points
  • Factual error in a subtitle: 2 points
  • Factual error in the body of the article: 1 point

2. Factual errors must be ones that can be judged against publicly available documents – i.e. not just opinions or reports of interviews. 

3. Nominations must be posted on this blog. The nomination should contain: 

  • Web addresses for both the nominated article and the academic source that is misrepresented.
  • Name and email contact of the nominator. Anonymous nominations are not allowed
  • A scored copy of the article, as illustrated below
  • If a nominated article is not available electronically, then the nominator should provide a list of the points used to score the article, and retain a photocopy of the article, which should be provided to the judges on request.

4. If there is more than one plausible candidate for the prize, then additional criteria will be used, such as: 

  • The seriousness of the error, e.g. could it damage vulnerable groups?
  • Relevant undisclosed vested interests by journalist or his/her newspaper
  • The ratio of accurate to inaccurate content
  • The presence of irrelevant but misleading content
  • The size of the readership
  • and mitigating circumstances, such as
  • Whether there was a misleading press release from the academic’s institution
  • Whether a scientist colluded in ‘talking up’ the findings and going beyond data

Nominators are encouraged to comment on these points also, but final judgement will be made by a panel of judges. 

Hope on over to her blog to discuss and make suggestions. 

* Copyright BBC

3 thoughts on “Some animals are more equal: The Orwellian prize for journalistic misrepresentation

  1. JG says:

    Golly! I wonder if she’ll open the contest to US nominations. In this country, it’s very often a matter of finding the one fact the journos have got right.

    (Have sympathy for the journos concerned. Most often, the bean-counters have fired the science journos as too expensive, so that bright but scientifically ignorant people have to struggle along as best they can. How would you cope if suddenly asked to report on, say, an arcane debate over late-era Sanskrit plurals . . . in Sanskrit? Of course, the bean-counters never get rid of those few supposed science journos who’re in fact ideologically-blinkered klutzes, like John Tierney of the NYT.)

  2. Great idea! I’ve been bitching about the quality of newspapers for as long as I can remember – it’s certainly an issue I that seriously because I often find myself debating the most ridiculous subject because the other read something in the Australian or (I roll my eyes mentioning it) the Advertiser. I’ve often added comments on the AdelaideNow website to argue the rubbish they post – none of which is ever made public..
    PhD Comics created an excellent example of the Science News Cycle that I have printed and stuck up by my work comp;

  3. Phil M says:

    This prize seems to be an award designed especially for the Murdoch press. I agree with Mothincarnate about the Australian newspaper.

    I’m sure their reporters are told to visit the following websites: &

    Then come up with a story for the day. Fox news must be breathing a sigh of relief that the focus is just on newspapers & not media in general as they actually strive to meet every one of those categories.

    Glenn Becks viewers must eagerly wait each week to see who is a nazi or who is adopting their tactics.

    Sadly he hasnt heard of Godwins law.

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