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How the FDA controls news coverage

Stenographer using stenotype

Charles Seife takes an in-depth look at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's use of "close-hold embargoes" to manipulate news coverage: "The agency has made it a practice to demand total control over whom reporters can and can't talk to until after the news has broken, deaf to protests by journalistic associations and media ethicists and in violation of its own written policies." Commentary and more background from Ivan Oransky.

Embargoes and the EurekAlert hack

EurekAlert logo

Ivan Oransky asks whether the fallout from last week's EurekAlert hack will include a rethinking of the embargo system for distributing news from science journals: "We’ve already seen plenty of vulnerabilities in journals’ embargo (and related Ingelfinger Rule) practices, and glimpses of what a more persistent embargo-free world would look like, thanks to preprints." Read the comments for more debate. Also, the writer who discovered the hack.

Climate's absence from political debate

Presidential debate stage

Adam Wernick writes about an Ira Flatow interview with author Shawn Otto on the missing issue: "In 2008, Otto says, candidates were asked nearly 3,000 questions during the campaign. Only six of those questions were about climate change. Flash forward eight years to Democratic and Republican debates that were each held within a week of 195 countries signing the Paris climate accords: Not a single journalist in either debate asked the candidates about climate change."

So what is "science communication?"

Brian Trench, an Irish "researcher, evaluator, and trainer" and president of the Network for the Public Communication of Science and Technology, sounds off on the debate over the boundaries of journalism: "Some observers and practitioners limit 'science communication' to science promotion. That also remains a part of the total mix, but only a part. It is disappointing that some of our nearest neighbours think of science communication in these restrictive ways."

On the fear of being Jonah Lehrer

Jonah Lehrer

Diana Crow writes about struggling to create narratives from science reporting and suggests that's what caused Jonah Lehrer: "Fear of being unable to grasp scientific concepts isn’t part of Fear of Jonah Syndrome; in fact, the ability to understand and succinctly summarize notoriously difficult scientific concepts may put young writers at greater risk for it. The central fear is of being unable to empirically demonstrate your Big Ideas through narrative reporting."

The ethics of industry-assisted reporting

Wheat field

Nutrition advocate Nancy Fink Huehnergarth objects to an upcoming National Press Foundation program on agriculture, funded by Monsanto, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Pork Board, and the Organic Trade Association: "If we want to keep food and agriculture journalism impartial and trustworthy, reporters should never accept any kind of funding or compensation from the industries they cover. If we go down that road, en masse, we’ll lose our integrity."

About the journalism/advocacy divide

Stockade fence

Christina Selby examines the long-debated line between journalism and advocacy, and talks to journalists about where that line lies in an era when anyone can publish: "I jumped into science writing after a decade working for environmental organizations in which advocacy and education are both seen as necessary to bring about needed change. I thought science journalism did the same thing." Also, what's so bad about journalists being advocates?

In defense of pirated journal articles

Stack of journals

Justin Peters discusses the latest John Bohannon investigation, this one on pirating of scientific journal articles, and a Science magazine editorial on the same issue: "Is digital publishing really 'just as expensive as print?' As someone who has spent almost 15 years working in both print and digital journalism in many different capacities, I do not understand how this could be true." A lively comment section accompanies Peters' article.

A man tries to use more female sources

Male/female icons on scale

Science writer John R. Platt writes about his efforts to change the gender balance in his reporting and interviews Kate McCarthy of the Women’s Media Center, which has a service aimed at helping journalists find more female experts for their stories: "The ultimate objective here, McCarthy pointed out, shouldn’t just be to have more female sources, but to add more nuance to reporting. You can’t objectively cover the world, she says, if you ignore half of the population."

Covering science mixed with advocacy

James Hansen, image via Shutterstock

The latest climate science news started with publication of a paper from a team led by former NASA scientist James Hansen. It got widespread coverage, but not from the Associated Press, whose reporter was put off by Hansen's advocacy. Alexis Sobel Fitts examines both sides of the discussion and asks: "So Hansen is a brilliant and pedigreed scientist with a clear agenda, which raises the question: How should his research be interpreted and approached by journalists?"