More on the science writing and the internet

Over at the Cambridge Science Festival blog, there's a great write-up of the science journalism event that Heather and I attended last week. Author Jordan Calmes* has good summary and a lot of praise for the panel discussion, but also notes some potential shortcomings:

The panel convinced me that social media is helping both journalists and scientists. And yet, I never felt like they delivered on the second half of the title. How is the Internet changing science writing? What is it really accomplishing in terms of reaching out to a wider public. The panel mentioned that social media is often accused of creating "fjords," where members of one ideological community get into a very deep conversation about a topic, but never come into any dissenting opinions from people over in the next fjord (or at least, not any dissenting opinions that they're willing to take seriously). The speakers sort of brushed off the idea that they were only talking to people who already shared their interests and viewpoints, which was very much a missed opportunity from my point of view.

It's a good question, and one worth considering. I didn't get the impression that the panel brushed the idea off, but I think it's really hard to know for sure. I doubt anyone would argue that we want less science communication, or that we're reaching everyone we reaching everyone that we want to reach. More good science online means more people that are interested can get engaged, and maybe that engagement will filter out and trickle down to the folks that don't read science blogs. Writers that cut their teeth writing a blog might end up writing for a mainstream news outlet or write a popular book that reaches a wider audience. Of course, that's all just wild speculation.

Jordan* does makes a good point about why outreach is important (emphasis mine):

So, as writers and scientists, why should we care about these people at all? Because they really are part of our community, with the same right to vote, to run for public office, and to cultivate their own views among others. It's astounding, but true, that a single evangelical dentist from Texas can dictate what school children all across the country learn about science or social studies. These are the people we most need to reach, whether we do it through newsprint or tweets. I don't know how to do that. I'm not sure anyone else does either. But I wish we had spent part of the evening trying to figure it out.

I certainly don't know, and as much as I admire their efforts, I don't think Carl, Ed, or Hillary really know the answer either. But they're experimenting like the rest of us, and if they come up with any more good ideas, I'm sure they'll let us know.

Still, the fact remains, if we care about science, and science-based policy, we need to reach more people, especially those people that aren't likely to have in their bookmarks toolbar.


*The piece says it was posted by Jordan Calmes, so I'm assuming he/she wrote it. If anyone knows different, let me know.

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