Sunday, November 8, 2015

When Does the Media Turn Doctors into Santa Claus?

Some good news and not so good news from my media life this week:

A son-in-law was featured in an English newspaper because his earlier genetic research contributed to new cancer treatments. That’s good news.

Dr. Martin speaking Thursday. Her presentation was part of the fall Vietnam series at MMU.

A professor at Mount Mercy University reminded her audience that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not Santa Claus, and that the answer to the old question posed in a 1960s anti-war folk song—“when we they ever learn?”—sadly, seems to be “not yet.”

Congratulations Dr. Matthew Moscou for the research you’re part of that makes the world a better place. However, it’s important to recall that Moscou isn’t a magician who waived his magic wand and came up with a new cancer treatment—but part of a community of dedicated scientists working quietly behind the scenes, slowly uncovering mysteries of the universe. Someone else applied the genetic knowledge Matt uncovered studying barley to cancer cells in humans.

A link to the story about Matt is at the end of this post.

And media don’t always report well on science, which is a problem. Our public support for science has not always been high, and we have a cultural distrust of intellectuals of all sorts, including scientists. That has clear and negative impacts on our political life, such as denying, and failing to talk intelligently, about big issues such as global warming.

Anyway, it was nice to see Dr. Matt in the news in a positive way. Shifting gears, Dr. Martin spoke at Mount Mercy Thursday of last week about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and a famous speech he gave in which he articulated his reasons for opposing the Vietnam War. Since King had benefited from  civil rights legislation pushed by President Johnson, that opposition was gutsy.

And King spoke of the folly of our involvement in no uncertain terms.

Dr. Martin speeaking.

King tends to be remembered today for the “I Have a Dream” speech and his language about a society where the color of skin does not matter. That message is sometimes co-opted today by people who argue against efforts to promote diversity, on the grounds that such efforts are not color blind.

I don’t want to get into that particular quagmire right now, partly because I’m no expert on the topic and partly because I’m personally conflicted. But certainly our modern use of King's words out of context do him and his cause no favors.

Final view of Dr. Martin.
I do want to note something Martin said. I don’t know which writer she was quoting, but she recalled that someone once said that today there tends to be a “Santa Claus-ification” of King—to remember his 1963 speech, and ignore some of the harder criticisms and more controversial positions he took beyond that speech.

King had courage. As Dr. Martin noted, his concerns about military policy and nonviolence should echo today.

And we in the media should be careful of our tendency to simplify stories in order to create more digestible narratives. King was not Santa Clause. Scientists aren’t magicians.

But Matt sure does look nice in his British lab outfit! See the story.

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