Bloggingheads: Bloggers v. Journalists?

In this week's featured episode of Science Saturday from Bloggingheads, George Johnson and John Horgan returned with new insight on the controversy provoked by their last appearance, including some negative comments directed toward ScienceBlogger Abbie from ERV.

Johnson admitted that he may have been reacting to his cumulative perception of lower-end blogging, the existence of which Horgan explained by 'The law of the conservation of bullshit'—no matter how much the information sphere expands, there's still going to be the same proportion of bullshit circulating throughout it.

But compensatory kudos were given to those who Johnson considered quality science:

This is writing. These are people who, they're not just sitting down and reflexively typing what flits across their brains as quickly as they can to get it out there and to get people reacting. They're not trying to be purposely outrageous to get as many clicks and hits on their site as they can to get more fame or more pennies from Google ads. They're actually sitting down, thinking about it, and crafting it into prose.

Regarding some coments made in the Dec 20 edition of Science Saturday that provoked an onslaught of defensive commentary from many of the ScienceBloggers, Horgan said the thing that bothered him about the discussion of scientists vs. journalists was that it perpetuated a model of science communication he does not agree with. He described this model as something that happen when "the scientists, who are discovering 'the truth' must convey this to the masses, but many can't do that themselves so they rely on journalists to do that, but the assumption is that... journalists are the ones who hype and distort science communication," he said. But Horgan disagrees with this assumption, pointing to the several scientists as the sources of misinformation.

"A lot of the big crappy science trends of the last century really have been perpetuated by scientists, not by journalists," he said, listing string theory and multiverse theory as examples of science that has "gone off the deep end."

"Science journalists are needed to protect us against some of these egregious claims made for science by scientists who are overly invested in a particular idea or theory," Horgan said.

The two also discuss whether science journalism will survive in the digital age:

Finally, they wrap up the conversation by addressing this year's Edge Question: What will change everything?

What do you think of this week's Bloggingheads segment?

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Horgan redeems himself and tries to say some smart things, but keeps getting interrupted by smart-ass Johnson.

Johnson digs himself deeper, showing he is just nostalgic about the good old times, and also did not understand yet the world of Google. Johnson does not understand filtering - I'm sure he is overwhelmed by the blogs because he has no idea, technically, how to filter them and focus on the good and ignore the bad. But that is his agenda, anyway.

He also thinks that NYTimes, WSJ etc. are excellent news organizations. He mixes up science reporting in the MSM with science writing for specialist science magazines (of course the latter are better, but still not perfect) in order to further grind his axe.

He also does not understand that if a person is to be trusted on reporting from Iraq, s/he need not be a NYTime reporter (indoctrinated with the NYTimes newsroom BS) sent out there - it CAN be and will be an Iraqi with a wifi. Why does he trust an American over an Iraqi? How Republican is that?

Johnson also thinks that a science book (or article) is good if it is nicely written, accuracy be damned. Horgan responds well: "you can be sincere in your bullshit". The entire thrust of my post last week was about this - that the insistence on "proper Queen's English" is an elitist, save-my-ass from women, upcoming youngsters, minorities, furriners and anyone else who is threatening my position in the hierarchy no matter how outdated I am.

I think Johnson is inherently un-democratic, he thinks that there are some smart elites who should do the deciding for others, choosing what the proles will hear and how that will be packaged. He also chooses to focus on bad blogs and on good journalists, even though a few minutes before he mentions by name some good blogs - and he does not see the contradiction between his two statements just a few minutes apart. We here know who the good blogs are, and we have also developed method for figuring out pretty fast how good the new blogs are. We are also watchdogs of the media, so we focus on errors and are dumbfounded as how much bad reporting goes on. And when we blog about it, Google brings our posts up on top of searches, while the original articles are nowhere, or even hidden behind paywalls.

Every time we discuss this, there are people who mention good science writers/journalists. And they always come up with the same names: Zimmer, Judson... This just goes to show how rare good science journalists are - if there were more, people would be coming up with many more names, not just this handful.

And you know what? Zimmer and Judson are bloggers. This means that over the years they have upgraded their journalistic ethics to reach the level of blogospheric ethics - link to sources, admit and correct mistakes, do not indulge in sockpuppetry, engage good commenters and ignore the trolls, and do not hide your own backgrounds, allegiances and biases behind the False Equivalence of the He-Said-She-Said journalism, in other words, bloggers are honest, while journalists have learned in J-schools how not to be.

Other examples usually trotted out? Nicholas Wade. Wade used to be terrible. Then he got burned a few times by science bloggers. He learned. He is now good. Those who do not dismiss bloggers but use the opportunity to learn from them (as science bloggers are experts BOTH in science and in communication), do well. Others will go extinct.

Johnson needs to start reading Jay Rosen's blog and to start following him on Twitter, as he is woefully naive about the current crisis and the future of journalism as a whole, not just science journalism.

Horgan's idea of radical transparency-->disarmament is so embarrassingly ludicrous at so many levels that it is painful to listen to. Johnson just reminds me of those two guys sitting in the audience box on the Muppet Show. Abbie et al. should be proud of being criticized by these buffoons.

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 04 Jan 2009 #permalink

For some bizarre reason I'd much rather read what ERV writes than listen to some guy in a baseballcap and plaid shirt has to say about science?

Who is that guy? He looks like someone one'd meet at a whiskey bar, rambling about how 'dem ayleens done poked his cattle'.

(Yeah, ad hominem, I know.)

waw. interesting video.

"Science journalists are needed to protect us against some of these egregious claims made for science by scientists who are overly invested in a particular idea or theory," Horgan said

hehe :)