We Wuz Wrong

We missed meeting Safecast’s two participants in the IAEA’s “International Experts’ Meeting on Radiation Protection after the Fukushima Daiichi Accident: Promoting Confidence and Understanding,” in Vienna last month, and without being able to put faces to names managed to incorrectly identify one of them in our post, “Hans Brinker & the IAEA.” Thanks to Azby Brown, who was in Vienna with Joe Morrosin, for pointing this out.

But our hiccup offers the opportunity to suggest Atomic Reporters readers check out the work of Safecast and see if you don’t agree with us that such crowd sourced citizen science is an important tool for fact checking ‘official’ findings. In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, for example, ‘official’ data were frequently discredited because by trying to minimise concerns, and other errors in communicating the crisis, public suspicion was aroused.

For reporters, Safecast offers the assurance of independent oversight, and its growing acceptance – established experts from the global nuclear safety community rubbed shoulders with its delegates, self-declared hackers, at the IAEA conference – beggars the claim that laypersons should not have access to nuclear data because they don’t know how to manage it.

Increasingly, it is the citizen who is becoming the watchdog. The advent of available reliable and affordable tools is one of the catalysts for such change. And it raises fresh challenges for journalists who will be required to expand the scope of their skills too.

This doesn’t exclude the gut feeling that drives much of good reporting but it does require a familiarisation with the language of data in order to tell readers and viewers about it more effectively.

It is an irony that even as more high speed driven data distils reporting it will be old fashioned gum shoe approach that will be required to manage it, or what Dean Starkman in an excerpt from his book, The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism defines as accountability reporting.

We’ll be returning to some of these themes more often in future and are working on plans to turn some of them into support for reporters

Peter Rickwood

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