Tag Archives: science journalism

British article unleashes debate on science coverage

Highlighting good science journalism would contribute to improving coverage, according to Ed Yong, writing for Discover Magazine’s Not Exactly Rocket Science blog.


Photo by Alex Barth via Flickr

He writes that a lack of accountability fuels frustration with poor science journalism, as it does in the case of a story in the UK’s Observer newspaper that was critiqued by the Guardian’s Ben Goldacre and has now been removed from the Web site.

The episode has triggered a number of pieces about whether such critiques are helpful or whether science journalists are unfairly criticized, including “an opinion piece from the Independent’s health editor Jeremy Laurence criticising Goldacre, a response from Goldacre criticising Laurance, and a defence of Laurance from Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre.”

Yong also points readers to an amusing – and angry – post by Martin Robbins at the Lay Scientist, who says, “Robust criticism is a vital part of science, and it should be a vital part of journalism.”

Robbins also points out, in more colorful language, that journalists who don’t do simple fact checking are making themselves irrelevant.

Best science blogs, Dartmouth Atlas, more care

Expect some short posts today – I’m at our Rural Health Journalism Workshop in Kansas City and I hope to post some about that. In the meantime, here are some links of interest:

Decline in science journalism hurts health reporting

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.

Journal spotlights science journalism

The latest issue of Nature explores the present and future of the relationship between media and science. Coverage includes balanced and constructive critiques of social media and journalists who aren’t themselves scientists as well as some obligatory questioning of the future of journalism as an industry.

In one article, Geoff Brumfiel details the rising role of Twitter-style social media in chronicling and commenting upon scientific conferences, saying that while providing for open and easy exchange of information, it also blurs the line between scientist and journalist. Additionally, the instantaneous and far-reaching broadcast of ideas makes competitive researchers even warier of revealing groundbreaking findings at conferences, on the grounds that they may then be snatched by any rival with Web access.

In another piece, journalist Toby Murcott questions the efficacy of press release-based science journalism and calls for reporters learn the expertise necessary to understand the fields on which they are reporting, and for journals to publish review comments that will provide more context for each article.

In a more focused editorial, Nature calls attention to tuberculosis and suggests that TB sufferers and researchers need to follow the example of AIDS and “capture the world’s imagination and support” by reaching out and finding “highly effective champions.” Globally, 9 million people develop active cases of TB each year.

Other pieces that may be of interest to health journalists: