In case you haven't noticed, there's a debate going on about the quality of science writing. Many scientists—I am one—think that the quality of science journalism is not as good as it could be.
I maintain that the top three criteria for good science writing are: 1) accuracy, 2) accuracy, and 3) accuracy. Everything else is much less important. Scientists tend to score high in accuracy when they write about science, especially if it's their field. (There are many exceptions.)
Professional science journalists tend to score high in other categories such as readability and style. These are very important features of good science writing and no scientist can be considered a good science writer without being a good writer as well as a good scientist.
What about the non-professional who writes a good story that is not scientifically accurate? Can such a person be awarded kudos for good science writing? If the awards are handed out by other journalists, and not by scientists, is accuracy of information going to count for very much?
All these questions come up in a posting on Thomas Levensen's Blog The Inverse Square Blog [More on Richard Dawkins’ Peculiar View of Science Writing]. Levensen is upset about the fact that Dawkins only selected articles by scientists in his recently published anthology The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing.
Read Levensen's posting to see the point of view that I dispute. Note that Levinsen refers to some very popular books by science writers who were not scientists. Some of these books may be popular but they do not score high in the category of scientific accuracy. How would Levensen know this? He's turned on by a good read and not by whether or not the information is correct. Other books by science writers are excellent. They are well written and scientifically accurate. Nobody disputes that. The question we're addressing is the general quality of science writing and not the obvious counter-examples.
As a general rule, do you think that science journalists are doing a good job of presenting accurate scientific information in their books and articles? Do you think that professional scientists do a better job?
[Hat Tip: John Wilkins]