OK, a busy day, mostly offline, so here’s another provocation for you to trash in the comments 😉
There are several different aspects of science communication. If we classify them, somewhat artificially, by who is the sender and who is the receiver of information, we can have something like this:
A) Scientists to scientists – mainly via scientific journals, also conferences, and recently via blogs and social networks.
B) Scientists to traditional media – mainly via institutional press releases, now also blogs and social networks.
C) Traditional media to interested (“pull” method) lay audience – in newspapers, magazines, on radio and TV, also movies and plays.
D) Scientists to (probably) uninterested (“push” method) lay audience – in the classroom, for credit and grades required for graduation, these days often using the Web as a classroom tool.
E) Scientists to interested (“pull” method) lay audiences – in popular science books and recently via blogs and social networks
F) Scientists to highly interested and involved lay audiences – offline via Citizen Science projects, also museums, science cafes, public lectures, unconferences, and online on blogs, computer games, and social networks.
For a very brief period in history, roughly six decades from 1940 to 2000, the term “journalism” was assigned, for technological and business reasons, only to the C above (not ‘since Gutenberg’ – it took 150 years from Gutenberg to the first newspaper, and not until early 20th century was there anything resembling the broadcast-only, one-to-many, corporate media ecosystem we are all familiar with and some people erroneously assume is “the norm”). This is unnecessarily narrow. For several centuries before this period science journalism was, and the last decade or so after this brief aberration in history is again, essentially equal to ‘science communication’, thus, “all of the above” applies, not just C.
If anything, that C is the weakest link – the worst form of science communication of all of the above choices as it is the only one performed by people who are unlikely (yes, I know, there are some fantastic but rare exceptions) to have sufficient expertise to understand and explain the science. Journalism requires expertise in the topic, and science journalism is a prime example of this requirement.
It has been only a couple of decades that it has become a norm to become a journalist by going through a journalism program in college – before that, science journalists tended to come from science backgrounds. Such science journalists had the ability to understand the science news and to translate them into lay language. Of course, science news was never reported only by specialized science reporters – there are examples throughout the history of media of regular beat reporters and op-ed writers covering science, usually quite disastrously.
Now back to the self-centeredness from the title of this post….
I try to be as complete a science communicator as I can be, trying my hand at all of the above as much as I can:
B) As a blogger for PLoS, I often highlight some of PLoS ONE papers, distilling them for lay audience, mainly for the benefit of the media.
C) I have never attempted to publish in traditional media, a priori frustrated by length limits, headline writers, and potentially ignorant editors. But I am willing to try. And I am also an outside advisor to the PRI/BBC/World experiment in connecting science stories on the radio to the Web.
D) I teach Biology 101 to non-science majors in non-traditional education at college level.
E) I write this blog (yes, including real science posts) for which I am paid. I write for ScienceInTheTriangle blog, for which I am paid. I post interesting science links on Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook and am ready to answer questions from non-scientific audience on such platforms. I try to practice the new journalistic workflow. And people think I am not that bad at it. And I edit and guide the collection and production of Open Laboratory anthologies.
And I read, think and write a lot about the current changes in the world of journalism.
So, am I a science journalist, in a 21st century sense of that word? I think I am (and there is also an undisclosed business reason why I am claiming this, but that is peripheral), and if not a journalist at least a ‘science writer’, but people who internalized by osmosis the 20th century ideas about journalism may beg to differ.
Are you a science journalist?