Decline in science journalism hurts health reporting

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism, and he has blogged for Covering Health ever since.

In The Nation, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum assess the state of science journalism and seek to answer “how did it come to this?” and “what happens next?” Their sober and engaging account takes readers from the glory days of moon landings and Carl Sagan’s wildly popular Cosmos series to today, when science journalism has become a niche market served by specialized outlets and polemic-driven blogs. While The Nation as a whole embraces a certain political position, the report comes across as forceful but even-handed.

Their evidence includes observations like “From 1989 to 2005, the number of US papers featuring weekly science-related sections shrank from ninety-five to thirty-four” and “Just one minute out of every 300 on cable news is devoted to science and technology, or one-third of 1 percent.”

Part of the problem, Mooney and Kirshenbaum say, is that today’s relatively inexperienced journalists (the experienced ones were too expensive for the tastes of profit-driven media conglomerates) chase from one hot new story to the next without contextualizing anything, leaving readers rudderless, confused and exasperated. Likewise, the writers say, in an attempt to be impartial (and perhaps as a result of a lack of prior knowledge in the field), reporters inject balance where it may not be necessary, giving equal time to contradictory and widely discredited opinions.

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