I volunteer my ovum in the service of cloning more Carl Zimmers.

Hes got a laymen-science appropriate-yet-not-dumbed-down-to-the-point-of-being-wrong article on the New York Times on one of the many ways we use viral evolution in the lab.

A decade ago, scientists began running experiments that suggested the idea just might work. In one study, Dr. Lawrence A. Loeb, a University of Washington geneticist, and his colleagues eradicated H.I.V. in vitro by applying a mutation-increasing drug to infected cells. Reporting their results, Dr. Loeb’s group dubbed this kind of attack “lethal mutagenesis.”

Lethal mutagenesis appealed to many scientists at first, because it seemed to be a radically new way to fight viruses. But 10 years after its initial successes, lethal mutagenesis has not made its way to the drug store. Scientists have had to grapple with difficult questions about whether lethal mutagenesis can be safe and effective.

“That’s a common thing in biomedical research,” Dr. Mansky said. “People get ideas, but then there are roadblocks and the excitement dies down.”

Oh my god a journalist reporting realistic science???


And I dont know whether he knew it or not, but I have MAJOR mind-crushes on Esteban Domingo and Susanna Manrubia (one study he writes about). An interview or Q&A between me and Esteban would consist of:

Esteban: *blink*
Esteban: … Ummm…
Me: EEEEEEEEEHEEHEEHEE!!! *runs away giggling*
Esteban: … Okay… hmm.

NOTE: I am not exaggerating. This happened irl with Susana. She was at the viral evolution conference I went to a while back. I didnt feel bad though, cause someone else I really looked up to did the same thing (okay, he got a couple real Qs in between his *SQEEEE!!*s).

But this excellent piece of work reminded me of a blogpost over at Angry Astronomer on ‘science communcation’ I meant to link you all to a while back. A FAIL of such epic proportions it seems like it should have been written by Mooneytits.

But the article that really bugged me was How Can We Make a Friend Out of an Enemy? How astronomers and journalists can get along better. I think it’s the most disingenuous piece of tripe I’ve ever come across.

The reason? It makes me damn well never want to speak to a journalist again. The entire article is a poor justification on why journalists screw up the science so badly and tries to make the point that if we want to interact with journalists, it should be entirely on their self-serving terms

Pretty much!

I already told Carl if I ever have major news, Im talking to him and only him, as far as journalists go. He has built a solid foundation of trust with scientists, and readability with laypeople in a way other science journalists, apparently, wont.


  1. #1 Gabriel Hanna
    January 5, 2010

    I’ve given up on science journalism entirely. In the Angry Astronomer post this bit jumped out:

    A distance that guarantees the independence of and critical analysis by the media that is necessary if the general public are to be able to form their own opinion.

    This from a profession that prints press releases word-for-word?

  2. #2 Bryan
    January 5, 2010

    I volunteer my ovum in the service of cloning more Carl Zimmers.

    Better hope his awesomeness isn’t a product of a mitochondrial gene then šŸ˜‰

  3. #3 Prometheus
    January 5, 2010

    I haven’t read Esteban Domingo yet but Zimmer is a marble model of how to be eloquent and still maintain accuracy and economy in popular and accessible science writing.

    The educational backgrounds are similar (not journalism, english) they both purport to teach science journalism, are from accomplished educated backgrounds and they are both solid autodidacts. So I guess my question is, who dropped Michael Pollan on his pointy bald head?

    Maybe it is the ten year age difference.

    Baby boomers seem to inherently suck.

  4. #4 gillt
    January 5, 2010

    I have an advanced degree in science journalism and I agree, it’s a broken. The way I was taught to do it (nut graphs, emphasis on personal stories over actual science, etc.) is problematic for sure. However, those are fixable problems.

    The huge roadblock I’ve encountered to more/better science writings is editors. These people are the gatekeepers of the status quo… the arch nemesis of a science writer concerned with accuracy. Most will not hesitate to rewrite an entire story, make stuff up, brake what’s not broken, get the science completely wrong, all in the name of pagination and hype. If they’re going to cut jobs at newspapers, editors are a good place to start.

  5. #5 The Chimp's Raging Id
    January 5, 2010

    Just as the political reporter is not the mouthpiece of the government, the business writer is not the mouthpiece of business…

    That’s the funniest damn thing I’ve read all day!

    I mean, it is a joke… right?

  6. #6 jose
    January 5, 2010

    It’s a shame in Spain no one knows anything about Susana Manrubia and Esteban Domingo. Literally no one. I’ve had to visit this site to know about Spanish scientists. Grrr!

    When will science become important in public’s perceptions?

  7. #7 pough
    January 5, 2010

    I have an advanced degree in science journalism and I agree, it’s a broken.

    Um… Your degree is “a broken”?

    …brake what’s not broken…

    Heh. Someone needs an editor!

  8. #8 gillt
    January 5, 2010

    Yo, “it’s a broken” is how we talk where I’m from.

  9. #9 Tyler DiPietro
    January 5, 2010

    You guys are obviously stereotyping Italian-Americans. I’M OFFENDED.

  10. #10 minimalist
    January 5, 2010

    Heh. Everyone seems to have a part of the article that especially bothered them.

    For me, it was this:

    But does this mean that the journalist is inevitably an opponent who works in a world that is incompatible with the scientistā€™s realm? No, not at all, as many excellent reports, films or radio documentaries have been shown that have reached huge audiences and have had a positive impact on the discipline. Labelling journalists as either friend or foe does not fit reality.

    It’s fucking retarded. The guy wants to steal credit from the few good science journalists; piggybacking on the good they’ve done, by treating ‘journalists’ as some monolithic whole.

    Lazy fucker. I’ll speak to a Carl Zimmer, not to a you.* And fuck you for thinking I’d be too dumb to tell the two of you apart.

    * (not a dirty Italian)

  11. #11 Leonids11
    January 5, 2010

    We are lucky that Carl Zimmer is a science journalist.

    I gave up on journalism years ago and believe that most of what we see on the news and read in the press is simply false. I think inadequate scruples contributes to the problem. Concern for the facts requires ethics. Many journalists couldn’t care less about getting the facts straight — don’t care to accurately name the subjects in a photo, actually see a movie they review, dig for clarifying details, check whether a purported witness actually witnessed the events in their stories. The journalists who do care about getting facts straight do not know *how* to get facts straight or are not willing to make the effort.

    Shaking his head, a veterinarian I took my pets to told me once that whenever he gave interviews to the media, he was always badly misquoted. The reporters didn’t need any scientific background — they needed only to know how to operate a tape recorder. The vet added had never seen a news report on veterinary medicine get anything right.

    The most instructive journalistic term is “story”: journalists give us stories. Accuracy is beneath them.

  12. #12 Tyler DiPietro
    January 6, 2010

    Okay, okay, I get it people. Wops and dagoes like myself are not respected here. All I gotz to say is “vaffanculo!”

  13. #13 TotallyUncool
    January 6, 2010

    Looking for useful scientific information (even on a general level) in a mass-media science story can be a lot like looking for chocolate easter eggs in a manure pile — hard to find, and hardly worth the effort. It isn’t a matter of science journalists maintaining critical distance — far too often, they don’t even understnd the stories that they’re supposed to be reporting.

    One of my favorite little gems of bad science reporting: a story on quantum mechanics in which P. A. M. Dirac somehow became “Pam Darak” — an example of the well-known quantum gender/nationality transformation effect, I suppose.

    Abbie: Just out of pointless curiosity, do you ever write things like SQUEEEEEEEE!!!!!! or EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! in your lab notebooks, or is it better for the world not to know?

  14. #14 Rrr
    January 6, 2010

    Baby boomers seem to inherently suck.

    Not weaned, you mean, eh?

    Okay, okay, I get it people. Wops and dagoes like myself are not respected here. All I gotz to say is “vaffanculo!”

    Hey, enough already with this self-rapeturing…

    P. A. M. Dirac somehow became “Pam Darak

    At least, Dr Dirac had some notion of a pulse.
    Reminds me of a “popularized science” book* which declared the world’s largest toroid accelerator was situated in “Tokamuk, Soviet Union” — tokomak of course being the Russian short form for “torus machine” or some such. –What, expect me to dabble in linguistics too, now? I’m a almost a fended.

    * May have been the Guinness, even.

  15. #15 gillt
    January 6, 2010

    A while back Ed Young discussed science journalism as cheerleading and science journalism as investigative reporting, and whether the latter was even feasible for journalists.

  16. #16 mikka
    January 6, 2010

    “Lethal mutagenesis”? What happened to “Error Catastrophe”? It’s a much cooler sounding name!
    Plus, it more accurately represents what this is doing to the quasispecies.

  17. #17 Leonids11
    January 6, 2010

    Catching up on my podcasts, I was listening to Astronomy Cast episode 148, “Astronomy and New Media.” Dr. Pamela Gay talks about the positive impact of podcasting: “And so this is a way of turning off your TV and turning on free content without having the middle man, who often screws things up. There’s nothing scarier for a scientist than to talk to a network or mainstream media journalist because they get it wrong a lot!”


    So to those who wag their fingers at scientists for failing to being media savvy, remember: “There’s nothing scarier for a scientist than to talk to a network or mainstream journalist because they get it wrong a lot!”

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