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Old 01-05-2009, 11:32 AM
MemeInjector3000 MemeInjector3000 is offline
Join Date: Oct 2008
Posts: 16
Default Re: Science Saturday: The More Things Change...

I'm a PhD scientist who has many times decried the poor quality of mainstream science reporting. However, the answer to this problem is certainly not to replace science journalism with blogging (getting our science news from ERV? No thanks), but to elevate the quality of existing science writing.

We need quality science journalists because:

1- Many scientists are non-native English speakers (over 50% in some disciplines);

2- Most scientists who are native speakers can't write, or at least can't write beyond the formal structure of the research paper;

3- Most scientists only know their own field, and lack a science-wide and/or historical perspective, which the best science journalists have;

4- Almost no active scientist has the time to write anything beyond grants, research papers, conference materials, etc, etc.;

5- Few scientists have the motivation/interest in translating their work into a form palatable to the average "Parade Magazine" reader;

6- Most scientists' work, most of the time, doesn't have the societal importance that would warrant an article in the mainstream media. Unfortunately, many scientists have an inflated sense of their work's importance, which brings me to the related point...

7- Most scientists (eg, PIs of biomedical labs) are mini-PR machines, bolstering their own work and dissing others (as John and George rightly pointed out). Top scientists are not known for their modesty, and nasty grudges among them is common. This can lead to biased writing. (For the same reason, we would frown upon politicians writing stories about themselves.)

Active scientists who pass all these hurdles are few and far between, and are often tenured or emeritus academic professors who have the time. Of course, they can and do write fantastic books: Robert Sapolsky, Steven Pinker, Sean Carroll, Stephen J. Gould, Carl Sagan, etc, etc. They are largely missing, however, from the bylines of day-to-day science news coverage. Can science bloggers fill this gap better than journalists?

Blogging is a profoundly positive new development in science education and popular media -- as a source of further reading and opinionated rants on a topic, and as an adjunct, fact-checking mechanism for mainstream journalism, nothing more.

Are bloggers going to travel to visit labs and interview other scientists for comment on a story? Are they going to find and develop business, academic, and governmental contacts? Are they going to quit their day jobs and devote their lives to covering emerging stories full-time? Is the public going to comb through 100 blogs to get its science info? I think not, and it is naive to suggest otherwise.

I read blogs daily, but the notion that the "new media" of blogging will replace the "old dinosaurs" of science journalism smacks of self-serving utopianism. It may happen, but for the sake of reversing the decline in US science literacy, I hope not. We need both.
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