As I once commented to Jennifer Ouellette, we science bloggers can be a funny bunch. We whine and complain about the way science is misrepresented in mass media, but many of us want to produce popular science pieces ourselves. Is is because we think that we can do better? (I know that's part of my own motivation, at least.) More specifically, I wonder how many of us have published/are working on books of our own? I've been tracking the progress on my own project, but plenty of other science bloggers are either working on their own books, have already published books, or both. Carl, Jennifer, Jonah, and Chris all have published books, John just got recently got his contract, and at one time or another I've heard that Blake, PZ, Zach are working on books of their own. (This is by no means a comprehensive list; just what I could immediately think of. Feel free to add to it in the comments.)
The effect that science blogs have in terms of popularizing science is still difficult to get a handle on. Plenty of people surf on in from web searches but regular readers are usually people already interested in the subjects being discussed. If you're not looking for them, science blogs may be easy to miss. Beyond immediate effects, however, I think science blogs still carry a great deal of importance. The science blogosphere seems to be working at as a sort of training ground for future popularizers of science, the dynamics of the community producing authors that are knowledgeable as well as talented writers. Although not every post is literary gold, the mere act of writing frequently is good practice and I do get the impression that many of us would like to take our skills outside the internet and into print.
I could be wrong, of course, but I think that science blogs at least have the potential to create a new crop of science popularizers that could "infiltrate" other areas of the media and improve science communication. Although we often speak of divisions between scientists and popularizers (no matter what medium they work in) there seems to be so much exchange that the boundaries are more constructs than realities. For my own part, I know that I don't necessarily have the same skills as someone who has been trained as a journalist, but I've accumulated enough knowledge and experimented enough with my writing that I think I could make the jump over to print. That is what I really would like to see; more science bloggers who have a good understanding of science and are passionate about it becoming more involved in the forms of media we say we want to change.
[As a final caveat, I do recognize that science blogs give writers freedom that is not always available elsewhere. The scenes of the documentary Everything's Cool featuring Heidi Cullen of the Weather Channel specifically come to mind, where statements have to be trimmed for time and run past editors. I don't have to worry about those types of things when I write here, but they are a reality of the way mass media operates.]
Yeah, go ahead and make me feel guilty about how little I've written this week, why don't you. . . .
We whine and complain about the way science is misrepresented in mass media, but many of us want to produce popular science pieces ourselves. Is is because we think that we can do better?
There's a song by the band James which includes the line, "If I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor." That's kind of how I feel about pop science: I see it done well now and again, and I owe a fantastic debt to Tom Apostol, Isaac Asimov, Keith Devlin, Timothy Ferris, Larry Gonick, etc., etc. This makes me all the angrier when I see the job screwed up!
Incidentally, whenever I rattle off a list of "patron saints" like that, I feel a little twinge of guilt. The profession has been pretty skewed towards the male sex! (I notice you cleverly try to cancel out the Carl, Jonah, Chris, Zach, PZ and Blake business by listing Jennifer twice.) Now, physics does have Lisa Randall, and biology has Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, but when I try to name female science popularizers like this, I always feel like I'm identifying the Token Minority. I can't do very much to address this problem directly myself, though. . . . Maybe this "new crop of science popularizers" of which you speak can fix issues like these. I hear that Rebecca Watson is working on a book, for example.
Blake; Just consider it a little more motivation. ;)
I agree with you about being both inspired and frustrated by science popularization being done well. If I know it can be done well the mistakes and miscommunication look worse by comparison. There will always been variability, but I just want to do what I can to keep things covered and not assume that our work is done.
I've noticed that my lists of favorite writers are almost all males, too, and that definitely concerns me. I listed Jennifer twice because she has been very generous with her time and advice as I've worked on my own book and I really do enjoy her writing. That said, I wish I knew of more women who are working on popular science books so I could list them. I didn't like that I couldn't think of any other women working on popular science books in the blogosphere (is this because of my own bias or something else?). I do read a fair number of books by female authors (Shirley Strum's Almost Human, Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man, and the work of Anna K. Behrensmeyer all making up a good portion of my recent reading), but I am hard pressed to think of more "general" popularizers of science that are female. Lynn Margulis would be one, but then again I haven't read any of her books and I know her views are a bit controversial.
This post was primarily a bit of wishful thinking, but I think some big changes can be made if we push hard enough. I think there are a lot of science-savvy people who have shown that they have the talent (and the time) to write, it's just a matter of getting serious about it and doing it.
I wrote two text books: Exploring DNA Structure and A Beginner's Guide to Molecular Structures.
So as neither scientists nor journalists, I guess Benny and I at Zooillogix are kind of the whoopee-cushions of this new media paradigm.
Yes, the Book. So many drawings are done, thank Science, but there are so many more to do. And then there's the text. And it's not helping that I keep taking on other projects. *sigh*
Couldn't agree more. I particularly like your call to action - it's one thing to whinge about the faults of science journalism (and there are many) and it's another to cowboy up and actually do something proactive to fix it.
My one piece of advice before people start to embark on writing for the mainstream media is that it's worth doing *some* sort of training. This doesn't have to be a postgrad degree or anything fancy. It could be a day course on journalistic writing. And it's a good idea because writing as a journalist involves certain rules and techniques that you should probably know about before you try to "infiltrate other areas of the media".
The point is this: mainsteam science media such as national newspapers or magazines have teams of people who are good journalists. Many of them are good writers. And some of them are knowledgeable about science and care about it. That's the order of importance. If you want to break in, you need to have a combination of these skills.
Just a clarification: my book will be technical and of interest to the fifteen other species concept researchers in the world. But I do have a popular book, on thinking in evolutionary ways, I work on sporadically. I call it "Evolving Thoughts"...