Truth in the age of Technology: Second report on #KS4Austin

The 4th Kavli Symposium on science journalism was held 19-21 February in Austin, TX. More than 50 science journalists and computer scientists gathered in Austin and discussed Fact Checking, Data Journalism, Artificial Intelligence and Technology and Truths.

With the breathtaking and rapid advancement that is happening in the realm of science and technology, all of the aspects of our life-changing are interconnecting with science and technology. These rapid shifts mean that not only science journalists have many stories to cover, and lots of areas that should explore, explain, and watchdog, but also the methodology of their work profoundly changed.

As science journalists, we are not only reporting and exploring science and tech stories but are also dealing with more advanced technology – especially in the digital world – to report on those stories.

Accessing to raw data and him tools that enable journalists to analyze data by themselves gave the high power to us to not only understand, examine and uncover truths from the same data that scientists are using; but also provide a powerful tool to checking the claims and put stories in perspective.

Data journalism, both in science and other areas of journalism, is a new and powerful trend. However, like any other powerful tool, this one is also coming with great responsibility. Intentional modification and manipulation of data by sources, p-hacking, the possibility of putting sources in danger by publishing a specific set of data – or the analysis that based on those – are just a few concerns. The complexity of data gathering and presenting in addition to chaotic laws and legal issues which govern the data in different countries is another issue that journalists could find themselves dealing with them while producing data journalism stories.

These were part of the 4th Kavli symposium conversation about data and data journalism. What challenges are in this field, what issues should be addressed and what limits should be considered.

Accessing data and analyzing them, using the coding and mathematical software and different method of representations empower storytellers. However, when we are dealing with significant and sufficient data alongside with new technologies, we could go one step forward and see if a system, based on the data and algorithms could start to going independence from us and produce contents automatically. This exciting technology already exists, and different lab and media organization are trying to push it forward and bring AI to the new world.

This was one another area that journalists and computer scientists had a lively debate about at KS4. Use of AI to fact-check is one of the first steps. Different groups including AI department of the Washington Post are going further by creating AI based bot to help writing stories about local events.

This area is a place that probably most of the future discussion in journalism and science journalism will happen. Is there or should be any limits for using AI to produce contents? What is the level of automatic personalization of stories? How we can separate the news values, and advertising values in such technologies are part of the discussion and especially with the growing the popularity of conversational techs such as Alexa and Google home, they will still be at the focus of discussions.

At the end of the day, all we do is – or at least we think we do – based on facts and truths. No matter what methods and technology we are using; finding the truths and reporting the facts is an essential part of our job. These core values are more important than ever, especially in the age of the war against facts and Fake News, and the new age of denialism about science.

The idea of Pre-emptive reporting in science journalism and trying to increase the public understanding of what and how science work is important and a worthy topic.

The story of science journalism and facts and truths is to be continued. Journalists and computer scientists at the 4th Kavli symposium came up with different project proposals for the WFSJ to keep these discussions alive and make progress about them. Some of these projects will be announced soon enough, and some of them will be discussed more in details at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Lausanne (WCSJ2019).

Blog article by Pouria Nazemi, a science journalist based in Montreal. Mr. Nazemi participated in KS4 thanks to the financial support of the Fonds de Recherche du Québec

Montreal, 5 March 2018