StarTalkTV Looks at Media, Truth and Rumors

Arianna Huffington on StarTalk TV - National Geographic ChannelSorry dear reader(s) this has taken me a few extra days to catch up one the latest episode of the best (only) late-night talk show hosted by a noted astrophysicist, StarTalk. I’d have done this sooner, but I was busy trying to lift heavy objects around Recappers’ HQ. Seriously, I’m pretty sure that second-hand sofa is heavier than Pluto.

The featured guest was Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, who is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Huffpo. In the Hall of the Universe at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium with Dr. Tyson were Jeff Jarvis, professor of journalism at the City University of New York and Chuck Nice.

The subject of the episode was blogging and media.  Here are some highlights.

The End of Guttenberg? Tyson discusses the idea of how competing newspapers provided access to different types of news and were able to define communities in that way. Jeff Jarvis explains that because of technology we’re at the end of “mass” audiences the media can shovel information at. Some academics now believe that the current information age represents an end of the change in communication brought about by the invention of the printing press. Communication has returned to trying to spread word of an event or idea from one person to another with new tools such as blogs and social media leading the way.

Faith in bias or your fellow man? The conversation turned to the subject of bias. Nice pointed out that news outfits were often created around the publisher’s bias. But he wonders whether today’s individualized news is really just a chance for people to seek out only the “news they agree with.”

Jeff Jarvis chides Nice, saying, “O ye of little faith in your fellow man.” Nice comes back at Jarvis with, “I’m a comedian, I have no faith in my fellow man.” Comments like this make me think that science of laughter and comedy would make for a great future episode.

Aggregation aggravation? Tyson follows on the bias discussion to raise the issue of how those who dig up the news actually get paid if the Huffingtons of the world can just aggregate the work of others.  Tyson puts the question to Huffington. Her response was that Huffpo and other aggregators should drive traffic back to the content creator which will result in investigative reporters getting paid.

Rumor has it: Tyson later asks how if there are now so many more potential news sources (everyone online) how does a reader determine the true story? It’s the journalist’s job to help point that out, Jarvis says. Nice then asks, “Have you seen Fox News?” This leads to one of the best moments of the episode as Tyson turns to the camera, laughs and says “Fox is the majority owner of National Geographic Channel.” Nice tries to deftly deflect from the subject and laughter ensues. Hope Chuck cashed the check from that episode quickly.

Barbarians at the gatekeeper: Jarvis adds later that though journalists are tasked with separating rumor from fiction, they’re no longer the filter or gatekeeper for information handed to the public. Search engines like Google can use what they know about what’s being considered most reliable by readers. Tyson then asks about why non-scientifically accurate views can get pushed to the top of a search engine because of interest from those parties. Jarvis argues it is the job of the true scientists to create more content that will drive the bad information lower in search rankings. Man, I hope Jeff Jarvis is right here, else we’ll be back to learning how flat the earth is.

Science vs. religion: Huffington is back and Tyson asks her about science, which leads her to talk about how she believes her initial interest in religion and spirituality led her to consider the common trait in both science and religion: wonder. Tyson grants her the intersection of wonder, though you sense he’s being a bit reserved. Back at the Hall of the Universe, he puts it more directly, saying that that they can’t really be compared since religion makes claims that can’t be tested.

Overall, it was an enjoyable enough episode. Since this is a subject that I know a good deal about from my work in new and social media, perhaps I was expecting too much. For instance, though they touched on trolling as a phenomena, they didn’t explore either why trolls do what they do or examine why news sites are so frequently beset by trolls. StarTalk, for me, is best when it starts exploring the mechanics of a given subject and I felt a bit geek deprived. Hopefully there’ll be an episode that will examine the biology and psychology of human communication. I’ll look forward to that episode. Meanwhile, I’m going to rest my back.

Oh, and congratulations to Neil deGrasse Tyson and Star Talk for getting a second season. Thanks for not making me start a fan campaign to keep you on the air!

David F.
When it comes to TV watching, DavidF is a sucker for classic comedies, anything mechanical with wheels, nature shows and things being built.

2 thoughts on “StarTalkTV Looks at Media, Truth and Rumors”

  1. Geri says:

    Interesting about the problem with identifying the truth in the fast paced world of internet news and aggregators. I just read an article about how someone put PhD after their name and wrote an article claiming that eating a chocolate bar daily was good for your health. He made the whole thing up to see how many news sources would publish it unchecked. He was horrified how many news agencies published it without question. Pretty soon it is all going to be a wiki news world. Dangerous.

  2. David F. says:

    It’s definitely something touched on in this episode. There’s definitely a worry about this. Thing is there are actually some good sources factchecking this kind of thing, one of the best of which is, which actually reviews not just the media behind these scientific proclamations, but also the institutions and scientific journals that get this information before the media. Jeff Jarvis would likely cite this as an example of what should be done to counter misinformation. The question is, how many people will actually have and take the time to check the source of the source of piece of information. Still, it’s also important to keep in mind that the history of U.S. journalism back to the beginning of “dead tree” editions is one of truth, lies and rumors.

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