Perhaps you’ve heard of Andrew Keen? He showed up on Colbert recently to discuss his new book The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture.
One of his points is that bloggers in particular are mere amateurs who inevitably coarsen the public debate and threaten professional journalistic enterprises with their ceaseless and ill-informed attacks.
This, of course is total nonsense.
You can always find dark corners of the internet where ignoramuses get into silly flame wars with one another. But the best blogs, and the ones that generate most of the traffic, are simply marvelous at keeping journalists and pundits honest. Media folks now have relentless, well-informed watchdogs ready to take them to task for their frequent errors, biases, and just frankly stupid statements. It’s not that we once had professional journalists who knew what they were doing, who then got taken down by amateur know-nothings. Rather, it is that journalists can no longer get away with phoning it in and making it up because bloggers will call them on it.
Via P.Z. Myers, we we now see a similar example from science journalism. The propensity of science reporters to exaggerate every two-bit discovery into a scientific revolution has long been a problem. Now we have a classy outlit like National Geographic falling into this trap:
Aaargh. When will the media learn? National Geographic is running this ridiculous headline right now: New Fossil Ape May Shatter Human Evolution Theory, in which the reporter claims a discovery of some teeth could “demolish a working theory of human evolution.” It’s not true. Where is this nonsense coming from?
Now read the blogs — they’re doing a much better job of evaluating this work than the traditional media. For one thing, they’re actually looking at it critically. Afarensis points out that these are only a few teeth, and it’s awfully thin grounds for a substantial revision of the timeline. John Hawks makes a similar point, but also highlights the fact that there is an unresolved problem — we need to reconcile paleontological and molecular dates. Even John Wilkins, a “mere” philosopher, weighs in sensibly that teeth are plastic characters in phylogeny, and deplores this peculiar media habit of taking a recalibration of a historical detail as a major reformulation of theory. All these discussions are sober and interested and most important of all, accurate.
See the original for links.
P.Z. has it exactly right. More than that, when it comes to science reporting, the blogs are usually written by professional scientists, while the mainstream media articles are not. Who’s the threat to professionalism now?