There's an editorial in Nature this week on science journalism [Filling the Void]. It's not very interesting.
There's an article by Geoff Brumfiel that's much more interesting [Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?]. Since I'm mentioned in that article, and since I can't comment on their site, I thought I'd make a few comments here.
First, I posted a comment on Chris Mooney's blog where I said, "Most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be better of without it." What I meant to say was, "Most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be better off without it". I just want there to be a correct version that everyone can quote.
The article correctly points to a trend ...
Traditional journalists are increasingly looking to such sites to find story ideas (see 'Rise of the blogs'). At the same time, they rely heavily on the public-relations departments of scientific organizations. As newspapers employ fewer people with science-writing backgrounds, these press offices are employing more. Whether directly or indirectly, scientists and the institutions at which they work are having more influence than ever over what the public reads about their work.Over the past decade it has been the "professional" science journalists themselves who were the gullible victims of scientific hype and PR. The scientific accuracy of press releases leaves a great deal to be desired. They are, after all, intended to promote the researcher and the institution. They are heavily biased.
It is not a good thing that individual scientists and their institutions are managing the science news. It's a disaster.
The amount of material being made available to the public by scientists and their institutions means that "from the pure standpoint of communicating science to the general public, we're in a kind of golden age", says Robert Lee Hotz, a science journalist for The Wall Street Journal. But that pure standpoint is not, or should not be, all that there is to media coverage of science. Hotz doubts that blogs can fulfil the additional roles of watchdog and critic that the traditional media at their best aim to fulfil. That sort of work seems to be on its way out. "Independent science coverage is not just endangered, it's dying," he says.I hear this a lot. Science journalists seem to think that they have served as watchdogs and science critics by tempering the hype and propaganda spewed out by institutional PR departments.
I wish it were true. If science journalists really did their job of separating the wheat from the chaff then I would be their biggest cheerleader. Instead, for the most part they have been completely seduced by the lure of scientific breakthroughs and revolutions promoted by self-serving scientists and their institutions. There are notable exceptions, but the majority of science journalists have failed at the one job they are supposed to do better than non-science journalists.
That's why we would be better off without them.
Coincidentally, Ryan Gregory has just posted an article about Scitable, "A Collaborative Learning Space for Science" hosted by Nature magazine. I'm pretty sure that Nature is proud of this site. They think the articles are good examples of science writing.
Ryan highlights an article by Leslie Pray, a free-lance science writer. The title is: Transposons, or Jumping Genes: Not Junk DNA?. Read what Ryan Gregory has to say at Scitable Again. He thinks the article is "total nonsense." I agree with him.
If this is an indication of the ability of science journalists to cut to the chase and give us the straight dope, then it's no wonder that scientists are skeptical.