Terra Sigillata

Just a quick follow-up from our last two posts about Amy Wallace’s article, “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All,” in Wired magazine about vaccine developer Dr Paul Offit and the anti-vaccination movement:

Wired has now compiled Wallace’s tweets from the last two days into blog-readable narrative.

Only a week after Wired published “An Epidemic of Fear”, we’ve received more reader responses than any other story in memory. Journalist Amy Wallace has received hundreds of messages, weighing in on all sides of the issue, and posted some of those comments on her Twitter feed.

Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” Part 1
Readers Respond to “An Epidemic of Fear,” part 2

To be fair, putting Amy’s tweets together was originally the idea of Sydney-based IT blogger, Bastard Sheep (part 1, part 2; the illegitimate sheep also twitpic’d last night a screen shot of his blog traffic before and after these posts).

The timing of this episode is quite instructive given a cordial exchange I had on Twitter with Forbes magazine science and medicine reporter, Matthew Herper, following his tweet that bloggers could do well to promote good science journalism when it occurs in addition to pointing out flawed work. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Herper to the point that I have always pointed out on these pages the names of journalists whose excellent stories I quote.

In the context of the Amy Wallace story, it is notable that the most vocal public support for her work has come from science bloggers (physicist Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance, Orac here at ScienceBlogs, several writers at Science-Based Medicine) to the point that the blowback she has received is now getting the attention of the online arms of larger outlets such as TIME magazine. I’ve watched as Amy’s Twitter following has almost quadrupled since she began tweeting about her e-mails two days ago.

Interestingly, all of this has occurred in the absence of Ms Wallace having her own blog. But, Amy has also been very kind to acknowledge the support of bloggers (including yours truly) and non-blogging scientists with whom she has corresponded.

What we are witnessing is an interesting convergence of the scientific blogosphere seizing upon a superb work by a “traditional” journalist. These influences have contributed to a relative firestorm of attention that has more vocal members of the anti-vaccination movement showing their true colors and being roundly called to the carpet.

This is the best of both worlds, friends.

Good, accurate science writing for the good of public health is the common thread.

You may not yet be singing “Kumbaya” but I submit that we’re all on the same team.

Addendum: Amy Wallace was interviewed this evening by Melissa Blockfor NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Text and free audio of the 5 min interview is available here at NPR.

Comments

  1. #1 arvind
    October 28, 2009

    Great post Dr.Pharmboy! I wish more mainstream journalists realized the symbiotic nature of this co-evolving new path rather than decrying the loss of their older paradigm. Evolve, but also bring something valuable from your older paradigm and it will survive and be incorporated. You cannot control the shift in the environment, only what you can try to bring to the adaptive strategies for the new environment.

  2. #2 Riayn
    October 28, 2009

    I agree with Matthew Herper we are eager to jump on scientific articles containing inaccurate information, yet very slow to congratulate those journalist who get it right.

    Perhaps it is through science blogs promoting good scientific journalism that we can get the mainstream media to stand up and take notice of them and perhaps through promoting the good science journalists we can start to get rid of the bad ones.

  3. #3 isles
    October 28, 2009

    Amy Wallace’s article wouldn’t have received the attention it did, to the point that it became a metastory, if she weren’t a damn fine writer. Good work on so many levels, Ms. Wallace! Always a pleasure to read a blog post about something meritorious in the offline literature.

  4. #4 Abel Pharmboy
    October 28, 2009

    isles, I couldn’t agree more. There would be nothing for any of us to talk about without her superb writing – the piece is a tour de force. Don’t know if you listened to the NPR-ATC interview but she was equally eloquent, thoughtful, passionate yet measured and, toward the end, quite compassionate.

    arvind, nice to see you here. It’s a great convergence, especially around a topic of such great importance.

    Riayn, giving credit where credit is due has worked for me online and off. I can only aspire to be a fraction of the writer that many of these great journalists are.

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