Homeopathy and open journalism
[Update 22nd March 2012: The poll has closed at 55-45 in favour of banning NHS homeopathy.]
The Guardian are running an online poll, asking for people’s views on homeopathy and the NHS. I have written about this topic before. The poll itself closes tomorrow (Wednseday 21st March 2012). So far this morning, I’ve seen the tallies sway between 51-49 and 49-51. Basically, people are split. The exact question is
“Do you think homeopathy should be banned on the NHS?”*
However, I’m not sure what the point of the poll is. Will it be used inform policy? Will the results be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed academic literature? It may well give the Guardian an idea about what some of their (online) readers think, plus those who happen to be pointed at the poll by someone else on the Internet. What difference will that make to anything?
But this is the kind of thing the Grauniad do now. It’s all part of their open journalism revolution. They’ve even created an advert for this new, exciting way of “doing” journalism, a re-telling of the Three Little Pigs in the modern era:
In the words of Alan Rusbriger, editor of the Guardian:
Open is our operating system, a way of doing things that is based on a belief in the open exchange of information, ideas and opinions and its power to bring about change
Although I like some of the ideas and principles behind this kind of initiative (this is a blog after all), I can’t help but agree with Ed Yong when he points out the similarities to this Mitchell & Webb sketch:
In a more serious analysis (also via Ed Yong), Robert Krulwich suggests that there will be too much unfiltered noise in the world of “anyone can have a go” reporting. Supposedly, the role of the editor is too important:
It’s a media environment that’s raw, loud, [...] it feels ugly.
In science, technical information is often poorly accessible to anyone apart from a few experts, but the issues can have a huge impact on many people. How the Guardian‘s reporting will be affected by the “open agenda” is unclear. I hope it doesn’t end up too much like the time they asked their readers for solutions to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. I’m fairly sure the Japanese authorities pretty much had that one covered through their own contacts. (More analysis here).
Much as I am a fan of open and participatory science, be that in matters of practise or policy, I still think there is a place for more formalised, self-contained systems. I think this applies to journalism, too.
*Incidentally, shouldn’t that be “banned from the NHS?”