Talk radio station 702 is wrong to believe presenters need to be a certain race

Radio station 702’s recent relaunch is a desperate attempt to find a foothold in a crumbling legacy media landscape. It’s quixotic so long as the station holds dear outdated ideas about programming and the media consumer.

The legacy media landscape may be under stress, but talk radio has an advantage over music radio, which is battling advert-free streaming services for the attention of music lovers. Talk radio’s disadvantage is that its presenters cost more to feed than the digital programming software behind music radio. So, talk radio stations need the right people to attract listers.

702 believes these people need to be of a certain colour. In a recent interview in the Sunday Times, Primedia Broadcasting acting CEO Geraint Crwys-Williams admitted to failures at the station but waxed lyrical about the shifting racial profile of its presenters, as if racial diversity is

Scientists don’t ‘say’

As anticipation for a Covid-19 vaccine reaches fever pitch, mainstream news media referring to the research using the term ‘scientists say’ forget a key point about scientists: they don’t speak with a unified voice.

[An extract from Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick]

The game of science has players and, importantly, it has rules. And nature may fight fair, but she’s reluctant to surrender her secrets. She is continually adapting to everything we throw at her, and the resultant complexity of the game means that humans have to be both creative in our strategy and methodical in our tactics, if we are to gain even a foothold.

To make things even more complex, there is no single strategy for scientists to keep their eye on the ball. Broadly speaking, there are two: one

Listeners shouldn’t be on air

Forget what social media tells you, you’re probably not qualified to be on radio.

My last post seemed to upset some people. That’s good. Those people needed a shake-up. I suspect this post will win me few friends.

Jeremy Maggs asked me an interesting question the other day. It was to do with a new talk radio station launched last week called Times Radio. He asked me what I thought of it and whether the concept would work in South Africa.

Some context: Times Radio is the latest offspring of controversial media baron Rupert Murdoch, but don’t rush to judge it - it has promise. It’s part of the Wireless Group, which is owned by Murdoch’s News Corp, which also owns News UK, which publishes The SunThe Times and The Sunday

The uncomfortable truth

Before you walk away from lockdown and face-first into the coronavirus, we need to discuss the elephant in the room: your uncomfortable relationship with science. 

[This is an edited extract from Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick by Daryl Ilbury, available online at leading bookstores and on Amazon.co.uk]

Religion is possibly the single biggest destructive force in the shaping of public opinion towards science, and the chances are it’s not going to go away any time soon. The eminent American biologist Edward O. Wilson, in his influential treatise On Human Nature, says that ‘the predisposition to religious belief is the most complex and powerful force in the human mind and in all probability an ineradicable part of human nature'. He points to the discoveries of bone altars and displays of funeral rites in Neanderthal dwellings as evidence that the belief

How many is ‘many’?

There’s a nasty little trick being used to argue for ending - and extending - the lockdown.

How many is ‘many’? It’s not a silly question, it’s actually quite important, especially now. Over the next few weeks, you’re going to hear arguments for keeping and ending the lockdown. Commentators from both sides of the argument will want to provide authoritative weight to justify their position. They’re also going to suggest statistical significance to that weight.

And that’s where the word will crop up: ‘many’. Example: “Many scientists are saying that…” or “Many businesses are facing…”. On the face of it, there’s a degree of accuracy to the claims; but if you dig deeper, there’s a flaw. To uncover it, all you need to do is ask, “How many is ‘many’?".

To explain my point: In a room

I’m afraid it’s not that simple

Much has been said about what scientists have said about Covid-19; but all that must be examined against one of the bothersome things about science: its mind-boggling complexity.

[An extract from Tim Noakes: The Quiet Maverick]

Scientific knowledge comes with caveats: it is at best incomplete, at worst wrong, most likely somewhere in-between. At issue is the scope and complexity of the subject matter (our natural world), the robustness demanded of the way we examine it (the scientific method), the demands, frailties and idiosyncrasies of those implementing it (the scientists), and the resultant disconnects, which are euphemistically referred to as ‘dodgy science’. 

Let’s dig deeper into the issue of complexity. If you ever find yourself with a little time on your hands, I urge you to look up a paper titled ‘

Step up scientists

It’s time scientists step up, step out, and put a stop to this catalogue of bullshit.

Scientists are a measured bunch, probably because their careers involve measuring. But those careers are themselves measured, not only in research output but also the impact of that research.

Scientists are also measured in the language they use. They’re generally cautious, sticking to supporting their statements with quantitive evidence - “In our research, 21% of respondents were shown to…” That type of thing. They prefer not to step out of their comfort zone of measured responses.

Right now we need scientists to stop doing that, and to start speaking with a commoner’s tongue. The media is awash with all manner of bizarre claims about Covid-19, and in the absence of firm, authoritative correction, those claims are taking root in the minds of people desperate for

Dark times ahead

We haven’t seen the full effect of Covid-19 yet, and when we do, fingers of blame will hone in without due diligence.

I’m going to put my boot in. This thing’s not over; not by a long shot.

When lockdown is over and the coronavirus takes hold in densely-packed townships and informal settlements, running rampant amongst those denied the luxuries of isolation and working from home, it’s going to enjoy its second breath.

And when people start dying by the dozens, even hundreds - and they will - South Africans will look for someone to blame. Social media has thrown up potential candidates: whites or ‘the rich’ - the two terms are apparently interchangeable.

But surely, that wouldn’t happen? After all, such claims are irrational. 

Think again. In an 

The gossamer wisdom of ‘they’

How can I tell if you’re spreading fake news about Covid-19?

Simple. I ask you one question: Have you ever commented about Covid-19 using the phrase ‘They say that…’? If you have, then, sorry, but you’re probably guilty.

If someone comments with some measure of authority on something using the phrase ‘They say that…’, and I’m within earshot, my reaction is to ask, “Sorry, who are ‘they’?”. It irritates my wife, who I suspect continues to use the phrase simply to return the favour.

There’s a reason for my pernickety inquisition: In journalism, significant value is placed on the credibility of the source of any story or comment within a story. It’s why journalists are very protective of their sources.

If, say, a story breaks about some cutting-edge research, and I have the lead researcher on

What you’re not told about Covid-19 infections

Right now, numbers of infected persons are being bandied about in news media as part of the breathless coverage of Covid-19. Those numbers are meaningless without context.

Let me explain. If the media report, say, 500 Covid-19 infections, my first reaction as a science journalist is to ask how many people were tested. It’s an issue of maths and basic logic.

If, say, 100 people are tested and ten of those test positive, the only thing we can deduce is that ten people - or 10% - of those tested, at the moment they were tested, were positive. That’s it. We can’t extrapolate it to a broader population. 

Let’s say a week later, the number of people tested positive is now 20; has the rate of infection doubled? Not necessarily. It depends on how many people were tested. If, to get