Respectful Insolence

…well, not really:

OK, I don’t really hate them. But it used to be that science journalists stood between scientists and the public. The scientists did research, then we asked questions and translated their dry jargon and complicated ideas into scintillating prose. Sure, there were a few scientists, like Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who wrote engagingly about the mysteries of the natural world, but they were relatively few.

Now look what’s happened. Go to the Science Blogs website and you’ll find dozens of actual scientists, commenting in real time on every aspect of science you can imagine. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were inarticulate–but most of them aren’t! They’re eloquent, funny, sarcastic and really smart (the last kind of goes without saying).No sooner does a paper appear in a major (or even a minor journal) than they jump in with knowledgeable reaction.

I hope Michael doesn’t think that we science bloggers (or ScienceBloggers) are in any way a threat to science journalists. For one thing, I at least have no desire to give up science to write full time. I will admit that I do toy from time to time with the idea of writing a book, but what usually stops me is that it would almost certainly necessitate suspending the blog for the period of time it took to write the book. I can find time for one or the other, but not both. For another thing, blogging is an entirely different medium. My prose is often so wordy simply because if I took the time to edit it down to the lean, mean sort of prose that I use to write my scientific articles and grant applications, for example, I’d be lucky if I produced one blog post a week, given that editing and rewriting usually takes several times as long as it does for me to produce the first draft. Fortunately, my readers don’t mind (most of the time, anyway). For another thing, science journalists can’t afford to be as opinionated in their writing as we science and medical bloggers are. There aren’t too many newspapers or magazines that would permit the sorts of posts I write on a regular basis, and I realize that, if I ever manage to con (I mean persuade) a magazine or newspaper editor to let me write an article for his or her magazine, I realize that I’ll have to tone my usual level of Respectful Insolenceā„¢ down considerably. Again, it’s a different medium.


What I actually hope to see happening is for journalists to use science and medical blogs as resources to help them cut through a lot of the crap and hype that surround various announced scientific or medical studies quickly. As Lemonick points out, within a day or two after an “important” (or, more frequently, “hyped”) paper is announced, often several bloggers will have analyzed its strengths and weaknesses in detail. There’s even a system being developed to allow easy aggregation of blog posts about peer-reviewed research.

Speaking of which, there are several peer-reviewed papers that I’ve been meaning to discuss, but got sidetracked by other topics. Next week would be a good time for me to try to tackle at least one or two of them, then make a New Years’ resolution to do more blogging like that in 2008, particularly when it helps me to show, for instance, which medical treatments are evidence-based and which are not, which feeds into the entire mission of this blog.

Comments

  1. #1 Blake Stacey
    December 16, 2007

    I will admit that I do toy from time to time with the idea of writing a book, but what usually stops me is that it would almost certainly necessitate suspending the blog for the period of time it took to write the book. I can find time for one or the other, but not both.

    Some questions, posed out of idle curiosity:

    What about turning your extensive Respectful Insolence archives into a book? What might the Seed Overlords think of such an idea? (I imagine there’d be licensing issues to work through.) Given that you’re obviously quite busy already, would you consider handing blog material off to a collaborator who could edit the Insolence into book-like form?

  2. #2 paul fcd
    December 16, 2007

    I get my science information from blogs like this. If I happen to read a newspaper or weekly magazine it is always old news, and print limits any depth of reporting.

    So, thank you, Orac!

  3. #3 delurking
    December 17, 2007

    “I hope Michael doesn’t think that we science bloggers (or ScienceBloggers) are in any way a threat to science journalists. For one thing, I at least have no desire to give up science to write full time.”

    Of course you are a threat to science journalists. Many people blogging a little bit every week can easily replace one writing full time. Since the many are doing it for free, they are cheaper, too.

  4. #4 Dr Aust
    December 17, 2007

    I don’t think good science journalists are under threat. Its the rubbish ones (which strike me as possibly a majority) who simply re-hash press releases that are threatened by expert bloggers who do what they singularly don’t – analyse the stories rather than just bowdlerising / repeating / spinning them.