A Popperian approach to journalism

I happened to be in the midst of reading Kuhn vs. Popper when I ran across this, by Nicholas Lemann, on the sometimes clumsy dance between narrative and analysis in journalism:

Forming a hypothesis. It’s healthier to admit to yourself that you have one than to go into a story with the idea that you have no presuppositions at all – that would be impossible. You should state a working hypothesis (to yourself, anyway), and then ask yourself what would prove the hypothesis false and what would be an alternate hypothesis to explain whatever it is you are investigating. As you report, you should try not just to prove but also to disprove your working hypothesis, and you should engage in a continuing process of revision of the hypothesis, if necessary. If you don’t design your reporting in such a way that if your hypothesis is flawed, you will find that out before you finish the story, then you are leaving yourself open to getting the story seriously wrong.



  1. Exactly.

    It also does not help a journalist’s reputation if a decent fraction of the readers decide that the unstated hypothesis has to be wrong and the readers decided this a paragraph into the story.

    Though it is probably very hard to do, I would love stories that say something like “I wrote this story with a strong belief in ‘social justice’. I don’t really know in detail what social justice is but this belief colors the writing of this story.’ Similarly, the story could be about just war or individual freedom. I just want, as a reader, to spend less time unraveling the facts from the writer’s hypotheses about the facts.

    On a related note, on my blog I put up a post on Adam Lanza, sporadic violence, and mental health. In this post, I tried to eliminate my personal take and just put in facts or links to facts that would help the reader.

    I realize that you do this kind of writing every day. I am becoming much more sensitized to trying to take my own beliefs and hypothesizes out of my posting.

    Thanks for your post above.

Comments are closed.