Carl Zimmer has written a lengthy blog posting about the troubles with science journalism [Visions of the Crash]. You should read all of it but I want to comment on one small part.
The rise of blogs about science has brought me many pleasures. I’ve particularly liked the astringent criticism of bad science journalism. As soon as a piece is published, scientists who know the lot about the subject can, if necessary, rip a journalist a new one. I personally have been very influenced by Mark Liberman, a linguist at Penn, who has time and again shown how important it is for reporters to pay attention to the statistics in science. What seems at first like stark results–like the difference between the male and female brain–can melt away if you look at the actual data.I'm not an expert in everything. Most of the science articles I read are explaining things that are way outside my area of expertise. They may be good articles or they may not be. I'm usually skeptical.
But some bloggers go a step further. They claim that these individual cases of journalistic misconduct add up to an indictment of the whole business. Hence, as Moran declares, we can live without science journalists.
It’s odd that many of the people making these pronouncements are scientists themselves–people, in other words, who know that you don’t do science by anecdote. If a blogger sits down in the morning and reads ten stories in a newspaper’s science section and notices that one that makes a howler of a mistake, you know what that blogger will be writing about. Blogs are an outlet for righteous fury. Bloggers are much less likely to write a post that begins, “I read nine articles this morning about science that were fairly accurate and pretty well written.” Ho hum.
However, the majority of articles I read that fall within my areas of expertise—biochemistry, molecular biology, genomes, evolution—do not impress me. It's not just a case of picking out the worst article out of ten to criticize. It's more like every second article has a problem.
When I talk to people in other fields there report the same statistics. It's looks like the average quality of science journalism, even in popular science magazines like SEED, Discovery, New Scientist, and National Georgraphic, leaves a lot to be desired.
I'm not very happy with most scientific papers either.