Monday, October 28, 2013

A pinch of responsibility

My habitual ritual of reading through "The Hindu" (an Indian broadsheet that I grew up reading) with my cup of morning coffee led to a pleasant surprise today. An article, the title of which read thus, "He has arrears in engineering, PhD. in physics" (Original article). Being a research student myself, the story was appealing and inspirational to a certain extent. It was very heart warming to see a student not only identify his passion so early, but also pursue it and succeed as well.

I immediately google-scholar'ed the student's work, wanting to understand more about his work - an instinct that I had developed over the last 4 years. The search landed me on to a couple of papers (listed at the bottom), reading through which had me stunned. The paper was quite naive, largely unedited and published in a journal that had an impact factor of 1.4.

What appalled me was not the journal's content, but the article which had led me to this. While it is well known in the academic circles that some journals literally publish "anything", I find it hard to digest that reports published in well known newspapers can no longer be trusted. A minute's research on the story, something as simple as a Google search for the journal articles, and reading it's contents would have been more than sufficient. For the love of physics, it even had a reference to Resnick & Halliday and NYTimes! A simple background check on its content like looking up the Journal's website or the UC Berkeley's pages would have easily raised doubts on the validity of the story.

This brings me to the part that irked me enough to write it up - the need for responsible reporting. I find it sad when news reports are misleading due to lack of responsibility and ownership of what is being published. While the broadsheet did published a correction soon enough (Follow-up article), the article has done enough damage. For starters, this has tarnished the belief of its many readers (including me), which is a critical cornerstone for any newspaper. Instead of a false claim (if indeed it was made by the student) being reported to the University authorities for corrective measures or a responsible research conduct coaching, the article has now exposed the student  in a bad light to the world (I really hope that this does not affect the future prospects of the student, all he needed was a little guidance and support).

All this and more could have been avoided if a minute's thought was spent on the article, a little more care when the article was written. All it needed was a pinch of responsibility.,