Saturday, November 01, 2008

Offers and demands

There's a data problem with this hed, but the bigger problem with it is "framing" -- not just the way facts are selected, but the way they're organized to tell a particular kind of story (problems of a particular kind imply solutions from a particular set, and so on). A.J. Liebling* managed to get it all in a single sentence five decades ago: Why is it that management always "offers" and labor always "demands"?

Data first. For the hed to be true, several of its elements have to be true. There has to be a condition of "moving away from careers in science" (implying a condition of "moving toward" careers in science, which apparently is genetic), and that condition has to be significantly higher (meaning not attributable to chance) among young Muslims than it used to be. So we can't say the hed is false, because we have no idea whether it's true. If there is such a measurement, there's no indication anyone identified it or used it in any way. The story quotes one law student whose parents are scientists and another whose dad is a doctor, but the trend is entirely the invention of the hed writer.

Not that the story doesn't claim its own tenuously supported trend:
Qureshi is one of a growing number of middle-class Muslims who are venturing into law, journalism, filmmaking and acting. They have seen firsthand the difficulties of being a Muslim post-9-11, and they want to ensure that America's values of equality, freedom and opportunity are extended to all.

Notice the difference? That's where framing comes in. What does it mean to "move away" from a career you haven't yet settled on, despite a childhood of filling petri dishes for the parents?** In framing terms, that's a question about the conditions under which career choices are portrayed as positive or negative. Liebling might put it better: Why do young preprofessional Muslims move "away" from careers while other kids move "toward" careers?

One of the running subthemes in the Fear Factor crankosphere is the idea of Islam and Muslims as inordinately anti-science and anti-knowledge (yeah, algebra was great, but what have you done for me lately?). I don't think the hed writer meant to play into that so directly, but -- favorite theme again -- readers can't tell what you meant. All they can tell is what you said.

The hed at the originating paper isn't the sort of eternal prose that gets carved in granite, but it does a better job of reflecting the story:
Students on course for empowerment

Whether the writer complains or not, this might be a nice time for the desk to sit around and talk about why some groups offer and others demand.

* From whom the hed is appropriated too.
** Full disclosure: I used to rotate stuff in the incubator for my dad on weekends, if that counts.



Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

gasp! You moved away from science!

2:37 PM, November 01, 2008  
Blogger fev said...

Oh, all three of us did. We were a right brood of vipers on that front.

Don't know how the parents would have taken to the second career, as they were definitely on the Stuff With Cells side of the What Is Science camp. I think they might have liked some of the construction-of-fear stuff on its empirical merit, but you never know.

11:31 PM, November 02, 2008  

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