Do we really need to report every new exoplanet discovery? How significant does an advance in cancer research need to be to merit a news story? Is every paper by a famous scientist newsworthy simply for reasons of that person’s fame? What do we do with contradictory research results, or concurrent studies that draw opposite conclusions? How about research that ends up being retracted?
These aren’t just provocative questions: they’re important for science journalists in any medium, working researchers whose work is covered, and those who write press releases. And they’re important for the readers, TV viewers, podcast listeners, and other consumers of science reporting in its many forms. I’m a consumer of science journalism in biology, paleontology, medicine, etc. — every field that isn’t physics and astronomy, and indeed in any story I read that I didn’t write myself. We’re all readers, watchers, and listeners, even if we’re also producers. It’s important to get these stories right.
That’s why I want the session I’m facilitating at Science Online 2014 next week to be more than just for writers like me: I want to hear from everyone who has a vested interest in science reporting. The title is Reporting Incremental Science in a World that wants Big Results, but our scope should be broad if we’re going to have a meaningful conversation. Here are some stories you might find useful to spur thinking (listed in no particular order):
- Do Mice Really Inherit the Fears of Their Fathers? Scientists React, by Virginia Hughes, which is a follow-up of her previous article
- On Dolphins, Big Brains, Shared Genes and Logical Leaps by Ed Yong
- Overblown Statements in Press Releases Undermine Science by Scott Tremaine (a prominent astronomer)
- Rife with hype, exoplanet study needs patience and refinement by Morgan Kelly; related stories by Elizabeth Howell (and actually read the comments!) and a blog post of mine
- Did Stephen Hawking Just Eliminate Black Holes? Celebrity science can be weirder than quantum mechanics, by me
Other examples? Please leave them in the comments, or better yet, post them on the session forum (registration and login required).