Crisp Commentary

I'm beginning to accept that the web-based argument between those that say journalists should leave science communication to scientists, and those, myself included, who think that's one of the worst ideas ever, is just one of those eternal conflicts like Democrats v. Republicans and Yankees v. Red Sox.

As a scientifically-minded journalist-in-training, I find this to be a relief. For the past few months, the debate has caused an annoying level of cognitive dissonance, which is finally subsiding.

Now, I'm not saying (some of) the relentless tweeting and blogging back and forth on this topic doesn't continue to add value to the scene. Why else would I be writing this post? Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship, and the dialogue between scientists and journalists is extremely important to truth-telling.

Often the crowd reaction to these science-communication-flavored web transmissions ends up being just as meaningful as the original post, and many times the comment thread is where the best content hides.

Take, for example, this post by Sophia Collins. It's well-constructed analysis the question that won't die: Should we replace science writers with scientists writing about their area of of research and expertise? It concludes that there are many ways to communicate scientific concepts, and the more diverse the communication ecosystem the better. There are niches that need filling from both scientist-writers AND science writers.

That's my view too, provided no one is misrepresenting, which is why I thought this comment from Ed Gerstner, a Senior Editor at Nature Physics, was poignant:
The big problem I have with the idea of doing away with journalists is the inherent conflict of interest in scientists writing about own work. This is an immense problem with the increasing prevalence of churnalism on the web. Actually, it's not really churnalism, but pure PR. That is, an increasing number of science stories I see on the web are not stories (in the journalistic sense) but university press releases.

And if you want to see misrepresentation of the worst kind, you could barely find worse than that of scientists writing about their work for a popular audience.

Yes, science news is more difficult to get to grips with than, say, entertainment news. But I utterly disagree that it's that much more difficult than say, financial news. Or legal news.

Should we do away with financial journalists as well, so that bankers can put a clearer case for banking reform? Or legal journalists so that litigators can put a clearer case for, say, libel reform?


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