This is hard. A few days before Xmass, I have HOT results comming out of the lab, and a major snafu is comming out of that endless reservoir of angst, scientists complaining about science journalists … and now those science journalists are lashing back.
I have to say that I really like George Johnson, but over the weekend, he attacked Abbie (who blogs at ERV here at scienceblogs) for complaining about the current state of science journalism.
Now George has made it clear that he didn’t mean to be so nasty. But is there something that can be learned from all of this?
I don’t have the time to delve into it. I’ll just give you my two cents and then link to every freaking blog post out there so that you can collect everyone else’s two cents and perhaps then end with a fist full of wisdom dollars.
It is the essence of professionalism to know the limits of your expertise. If a journalist feels they can write about something they do not understand they are exceeding the limits of their expertise. It is not that only “scientists” are qualified to write about science, but that only people who understand the science are qualified to write about that science. The same is true for everything. If you don’t understand something, all you can do is BS about it.
What erks scientists the most is when journalist are wrong, or dare I say it, not even wrong. However that does not mean that we scientists wished that you science journalists disapear, but that you did your homework. And don’t be shocked if you come up with some trite essay on the meaning of epigenetics, or junk DNA and half of scienceblogs erupts at the banality of your work!
2) To Scientists: Communicate your ideas to the masses!!! As George and Jennifer plainly state, journalism writing is an art. To be able to simplify scientific ideas so that they can be accessible to the lay person is hard and requires some skill. Now I don’t want to claim that I am good at it (quite frankly I must admit that I’m no Jared Diamond) but I am trying. Sure my posts here at The Daily Transcript are mostly aimed for people in the know, as George writes:
Down-in-the-trench laboratory blogs are a valuable source of raw material for journalists. But for an outsider trying to understand science, they can be like music from the perspective of a phonograph needle.
Agreed, it is hard work to skillfully compose an essay on histone modifications that will make sense to a reader with a high school degree. And this takes time, honestly too much time for my over-packed sleep-deprived work schedule. So yes I concede, writing about science for the masses is a full time job. So we all need to work together.
So what is the end result? Both sides need to become a little better at what they do. But I do think that both scientists and science journalists can benefit from the new arrangement. We just need to keep the criticism constructive.
OK, time for links:
- The relevant clip from George Johnson & John Horgan’s bloggingheads.tv Science Saturday
- Abbie and Ed Yong on Science Saturday
- my comment to George Johnson, his reply
- Abbie blogs about the Seed article on epigenetics at ERV
- Abbie responds to Johnson
- Ed Yong responds
- Bora on The Shock Value of Science Blogs
- Jennifer Ouellette comments on Bora’s post
- Brian at Laelaps: Science bloggers vs. journalists, again
- Gregg Laden: Blogging and Journalism
- Dr. Isis: Who are the Science Journalists?
- Larry Moran (my future colleague, gulp): Who the Heck Is George Johnson?
UPDATE – more links:
- Chris Mooney: Missing the Point on Science Journalism
- Chad Orzel: Bloggers vs. Journalists, Aleph-Nought in a Series