My post last week about the death knell of science journalism prompted some incredible responses. Here’s Larry Moran, putting it more bluntly than I expected, and enunciating an opinion we’d better hope does not prevail:
Seriously, most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be better of without it.
Maybe the general public would have been more interested in science if science journalists hadn’t been writing so much hype about “breakthroughs” for the past twenty years. Maybe the public would have been more interested in science if so-called “science” journalists hadn’t been confused about the difference between science and technology.
Science isn’t about what the latest discoveries can do to make your life better. It’s about learning how the natural world actually works. It’s all about knowledge and not application or politics.
Science journalists have let us down. I say good riddance.
Breathtaking, huh? I seriously hope opinions like this are not very widespread in the scientific community.
Honestly, based upon the foregoing, I have to question whether Larry Moran knows what a science journalist is–or at least, whether we’re talking about the same thing. For it seems to me that virtually everything he’s complaining about, a real science journalist would complain about as well.
Take the media slights against science described above–the hyping of “breakthrough” findings, the confusion of science and technology, and the swapping of serious science coverage for “feel good” or “news you can use” infotainment fare. Although you will certainly find exceptions, in general these aren’t the fault of dyed-in-the-wool science journalists, of the sort that proudly claim membership in the National Association of Science Writers (as I do). In fact, you can bet that within their respective media organizations–when they still were working within them; most of NASW today is freelance–science journalists have fought against many such calls over the years.
And you can also bet that they frequently lost out in those internal battles.
The point is that nobody loves science more than science journalists–and nobody more devoutly wishes to see it covered accurately and widely, so that the “general public” thereby benefits, and comes to appreciate science more thoroughly. So how is it that now, a scientist like Larry Moran won’t stand up for these science evangelists in the media, and blames them for a host of failings that, in truth, they themselves most assuredly abhor?
Pascal Lapointe, another commenter on that same thread, and himself a science journalist, makes this observation:
I think, Chris –hoping you’re still reading this many days after your original post– [er, yes] that the comments above are saying indirectly a lot about our problem, as science journalists: we don’t have many allies.
Yeah. Maybe the problem is that most people–even most scientists–don’t know what a specialized science journalist is. And now, maybe it’s too late to change that fact.
In Unscientific America, Sheril and I go into the history of this whole problem–and show how science journalism has struggled virtually from its inception. I think awareness of this broad communication issue is growing, but I also think we have a lot of traditionalists out there who are stuck in an old paradigm for thinking about science, media, and society.
Luckily, there are also innovators. Last week, for instance–before I was felled by a nasty stomach bug, which threw off my reading schedule, of which more soon–I dropped by the office of Princeton’s Climate Central. It’s a new nonprofit science journalism outlet that has cropped up to fight back against the death of science coverage in the corporate media, and its top public face is Heidi Cullen, whose Weather Channel show “Forecast Earth” was canceled in one of many, many science journalism cutbacks of recent years. Now, Climate Central is creating climate journalism content directly for TV news and other outlets, and involving scientists integrally in ensuring the information is accurate and relevant.
This route–the Climate Central route–is a productive way of fighting back against current trends in the mass media. Kicking science journalists when they’re down is…the precise opposite.
P.S.: Just anticipating the comments…this post is not about “framing.” It is about the simple empirical fact that science journalism is vanishing today from the mainstream media for broad economic reasons. Now obviously, I have made arguments about “framing” in the past–and these more involve the content and shape of science journalism, as opposed to its mere existence. However, that’s an old debate, and I’ve since moved on. So let’s stay on point–the topic is the death of science journalism. Thanks.