A river of research, not news

I already hate the phrase “fake news”. We have better words to describe lies, disinformation, propaganda and slander, so lets just use those.

While the phrase “fake news” might originally have been used to refer to hoaxes and disinformation, it’s rapidly becoming a meaningless term used to refer to anything you don’t disagree with. Trump’s recent remarks being a case in point: unverified news is something very different.

Of course this is all on a sliding scale. Many news outlets breathlessly report on scientific research. This can make for fun, if eye-rolling reading. Advances in AI and discovery of alien mega-structures are two examples that spring to mind.

And then there’s the way in which statistics and research is given a spin by the newspapers or politicians. This often glosses over key details in favour of getting across a political message or point scoring. Today I was getting cross about Theresa May’s blaming of GP’s for the NHS crisis. Her remarks are based on a report recently published by the National Audit Office. I haven’t seen a single coverage of the piece link to the NAO press release or the high-level summary (PDF), so you’ll either have to accept their remarks or search for it yourself.

Organisations like Full Fact do an excellent job of digging into these claims. They link the commentary to the underlying research or statistics alongside a clear explanation. In the same vein is NHS Choices Behind the Headlines which fills a similar role, but focuses on the reporting of medical and health issues.

There’s also a lot of attention focused on helping to surface this type of fact checking and explanations via search results. Fact checking, to properly dig into statistics and clearly present them is, I suspect, a time consuming exercise. Especially if you’re hoping to present a neutral point of view.

What I think I’d like though is a service that brings all those different services together. To literally give me the missing links between research, news and commentary.

But rather than aggregating news articles or fact checking reports to give me a feed, or what we used to call a “river of news”, why not present a river of research instead? Let me see the statistics or reports that are being being debated and then let me jump off to see the variety of commentary and fact checking associated with it.

That way I could choose to read the research or a summary of it, and then decide to look at the commentary. Or, more realistically, I could at least see the variety of ways in which a specific report is being presented, described and debated. That would be a useful perspective I think. It would shift the focus away from individual outlets and help us find alternative viewpoints.

I doubt that this would become anyone’s primary way to consume the news. But it could be interesting to those of who like to dig behind the headlines. It would also be useful as a research tool in its own right. In the face of consistent lack of interest from news outlets in linking to primary sources, this might be something that could be crowd-sourced.

Does this type of service already exist? I suspect there are similar efforts around academic research, but I don’t recall seeing anything that covers a wider set of outputs including national and government statistics.


2 thoughts on “A river of research, not news

  1. Leigh
    I’m with you on being able to read more info “behind the news”. One way I’ve found of getting links to reports is to search for the press release that a news story is derived from. I dabbled with custom search engines to support this in the past (eg that search over news wires) https://cse.google.com/cse/publicurl?cx=016419300868826941330:wvfrmcn2oxc&q= but I don’t think I did one around eg public sector/ government /quango etc press releases.

    One of my weekend pastimes is to poke around the data associated with one or two news stories that have a data angle. One of my resolutions for this year is to try to structure my dabblings a bit more, but I’ve made that resolution year on year for the last decade, so, erm,…

    FWIW, as per tweets, here’s a notebook with a few quick looks at some of the A&E data (updated location from one linked in tweets – I’ll try to maintain/work this one up as and when I return to it): https://github.com/psychemedia/openHealthDataDoodles/blob/master/notebooks/NHS%20111.ipynb

  2. I take your point only too well, but isn’t the service just a web page with relevant links? (Like you just done). With, erm, fake news blockers…

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