In real science, i.e., that that includes variability around a central tendency, we deal with uncertainty.
We believe, however, that there IS a central tendency, an approximate truth, a phenomenon or effect. But we understand that any single viewpoint, datum or even whole study may only reflect some part of a larger distribution. That part may or may not always give an accurate viewpoint on the central tendency.
So we have professional standards in place that attempt to honestly reflect this variable reality.
Most simply, we present the central tendency of effects (e.g., mean, median or mode) and some indication of variability around that central tendency (standard error, interquartile range, etc).
Even when we present a single observation (such as a pretty picture of a kidney or brain slice all hilighted up with immunohistochemical tags) we assert that the image is representative. This statement means that this individual image has been judged to be close to the central tendency of the images that were used to generate the distributional estimates that contribute to the numerical central tendency and variability graphs / tables presented.
Now look, I understand that it is a bit of a joke. There are abundant cracks and redefinitions that point out that the "most representative image" really means "the image that best makes our desired point".
There is a critically important point here. Our profession does not validate least representative image as an acceptable standard. Our professional standards say that it really should be representative if we ever present N=1 observations as data.
The alleged profession of journalism does not concern itself with truth and representativeness at all.
Their professional ethical standards, to the extent they exist, focus on whether the N=1 actually occurred AT ALL. In addition it focuses on whether that datum was collected fairly by their rules- i.e., was the quote on the record. Accuracy, again for the alleged profession, focuses only on episodic truth. Did this interviewee literally string these words together in this order at some point in time during the interview? If so, then the quote is accurate. And can be used in a published work to support the notion that this is what that interviewee saw, experienced or believes.
It is entirely irrelevant to the profession of journalism if that accident of strung-together words communicates the best possible representation of the truth of what that person saw, experienced or believes. Truth, in this sense, is not the primary professional ethical concern of journalism.
If the journalist pulls a quote out of an hour of conversation that best fits their pre-existing agenda with respect to the story they are planning to tell, it literally does not matter if every other sentence spoken by that person tells a different tale. It's totally okay because that interviewee literally said those words in that order on the record (and it is on tape!).
If a scientist processes twenty brains in the experiement, grabs the one outlier that tells the story they want to tell, trashes the 19 that say the opposite and calls it a representative image (even if by inference if not directly)....this is fraud and data fakery. Not okay. Clearly outside the professional bounds.
That, my friends, is the difference.
And this is why you should only agree to talk to journalists* that will send you a nearly final draft of their piece to ensure that you have been represented accurately.
If every single one of us scientists insisted on this, it would go a long way to snapping the alleged profession into line. And greatly improve the accurate communication of scientific findings and understandings to nonspecialist** audiences.
Representative image from here.
*They exist! I have interacted with more than one of these myself.
**Reminder, we ourselves are nonspecialist consumers of much of the science-media. We have two interests here.