Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Scientist Sheds its Last Ounce of Credibility

Many of us were upset last month when New Scientists published some old news about the early tree of life and sensationalized it on their cover [Darwin Was Wrong?]. They claimed that "Darwin Was Wrong" when, in fact, Charles Darwin didn't even know about molecular evolution or the relationships of bacterial species.

The New Scientist editors admitted that the cover was designed to sell magazines and they seemed to be aware of the problem [Explaining the New Scientist Cover].

They even published a critical letter from Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers [Blunt Talk from Four Evolutionists].

New Scientists has now begun an ad campaign to attract new subscribers and guess which cover they choose? Jerry Coyne and PZ Myers are advocating a scientific (Coyne) or personal (PZ) boycott of New Scientist. I'm conflicted about that. In spite of its recent errors, New Scientist is far superior to SEED and Discover as a science magazine. If we really want to punish the worst of the popular science magazines then SEED is a much better target.1




1. The monthly column by PZ Myers in SEED is the exception, not the rule.

16 comments :

  1. I have 3 computers each with a host of science and news websites bookmarked. "New Scientist" (though not frequently used) has now been removed without regret. Prostitution of science may garner them an increase in sales but action denies them an educated readership....and thus...a loss of credibility and respectability in the community they hope to satisfy.

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  2. I don't understand why you think this is new. I wrote a letter to New Scientist over ten years ago, complaining about an inaccurate column, and the letter I got back from them explicitly said that they were more interested in entertaining than in scientific accuracy. I've dipped into New Scientist on and off since then and every issue I've looked at has had the same entertainment over accuracy bias.

    New Scientist has never, ever, had any credibility. Complaining about them losing credibility is like complaining that Fox News is becoming biased.

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  3. I am a lay person (a foreign humanities student) who wants to read something on science "in general". What magazine would you suggest? I've been reading New Scientist despite the (obvious) problems, but would gladly switch for a better choice.

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  4. Note to Larry: people are beginning to catch on to your mental masturbating.

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  5. New Scientist never had any credibility.

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  6. There is a mag called "science news". My public library has it. It's just short articles and book reviews.

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  7. I don't read any popular science magazines!

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  8. If you're a student, you can get a 1-year subscription to Nature for US$99. Off the newsstand it'd cost you $510, so that's a pretty good deal.

    Plus you'd learn much more per hour than from a popular science magazine.

    Having said that, your university or local library may already carry journals that you could read for free.

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  9. Why in the world would a student want a year subscription to Nature? The only conceivable use I, as a student, can conceive of is strewing it about my coffee table in a geek-chic way.
    And I get all the Nature papers for free anyway.

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  10. Come on guys, this attack on the New Scientist is ridiculous! Let's play a scenario: imagine if creationists didn't exist. Would that be a good cover (and topic) or not.

    Of course it would. So what you're saying is that because a few scientific illiterates are going to misuse it, we need a campaign against NS? Where will it end?

    The creationists who misappropriate this are either talking to true believers anyway (so who cares) or they will be shown up as dunderheads (as anyone who actually reads the NS will soon find out.

    In fact what will happen is that some creationists with a scientific interest will pick up NS and read what's inside. Any creationist who reads the article that goes with the headline is in for a shock.

    I think it is masterful, and the people who get all outraged about it are (although they will hotly deny this) simply running scared before the creationist bandwagon.

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  11. Tom Rees,

    Come on guys, this attack on the New Scientist is ridiculous! Let's play a scenario: imagine if creationists didn't exist. Would that be a good cover (and topic) or not.

    Not.

    Darwin had nothing to say about the topic so he could hardly be wrong, could he?

    Furthermore, the cover implies that modern science depends on Darwin being right. Nothing could be further from the truth. We know lots of things that Darwin was wrong about. Modern evolutionary biology has moved on since 1859.

    I don't care what creationists think and I won't cover up problems because I fear them. If we find a flaw in modern evolutionary theory then so be it.

    I did not criticize the New Scientist cover because it catered to creationists.

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  12. Why in the world would a student want a year subscription to Nature? The only conceivable use I, as a student, can conceive of is strewing it about my coffee table in a geek-chic way.

    Well that's your problem. Nature is great for someone who wants to learn about science; I believe it's intended to be able to be understood by anyone who has a general science background.

    There's lots of editorial and commentary, and if you don't want to read the articles all the way through, just read the introduction and discussion sections.

    And I get all the Nature papers for free anyway.

    I believe I already made that point.

    An alternative would be American Scientist, which is a good science monthly

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  13. I'd like to quote John Hawks here:

    "If you think about it, most journalism is really an impossible task. You're writing stories about things that some of your readers know in great detail -- like the player stats of the local football team -- and other readers have never heard about. If you cater too much to one crowd, you'll lose the other. And that's for topics that are inherently interesting to people, who care why the team won or lost the game.

    Now, if you take the average scientific topic, it takes five paragraphs just to explain why anybody should be interested. Writing an interesting newspaper-length article about science is hard. I know because I've done a few."

    http://johnhawks.net/weblog/topics/metascience/blogging/nature-blogging-decline-journalism-2009.html

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  14. What John Hawks says is irrelevant.

    I'm not expecting science journalists to write for scientists. That's not the point.

    I expect them to write for the general public. But I also expect them to get the science right.

    Is that too much to ask?

    The complaint isn't that science journalists are simplifying the science—that's what we expect—the complaint is that they're getting the science wrong.

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  15. dregenetics,

    Thank you!

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  16. "The complaint isn't that science journalists are simplifying the science—that's what we expect—the complaint is that they're getting the science wrong."

    I thought that the main problem was the headline "Darwin was wrong" helped creationists, not the article itself. Sure the article might be wrong (I'm studying physics so I have no idea) but I am aware that biologists I have come across on the internets have disagreed on whether the article is wrong or not. The main problem, at least the problem everyone seems to be getting worked up about, is the headline itself, not the article as far as I'm aware.

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