When Exxon's CEO is poised to take over the State Department, it's easy for a journalist covering climate to grow despondent, Andrew Freedman writes: "In part thanks to Trump and his allies, facts are even becoming less meaningful in today's society. It's no longer enough to just get more facts out there, and hope for the best. It's a tough reality to face as a journalist, and it's also going to take some getting used to."
Science journalism and science itself might be especially vulnerable to the fake news phenomenon, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus write: "The real trouble with fake news is when there’s a kernel of truth in the pile of garbage. That’s especially problematic in science: scientists continue to dress up weak findings in flashy clothes, all the better to publish with. Then their universities often bolster this flimsy work with frothy press releases that journalists fall for."
British and Australian researchers reviewed 534 news releases from major journals and found exaggeration doesn't pay off, Matt Shipman writes: "Taking into account the smaller number of releases that included exaggerations of either kind — limiting the sample size — the most cautious way to interpret these numbers is to say that exaggerations in news releases don’t seem to make much of a difference one way or the other on whether reporters will cover the research."
Ivan Oransky reviews the EurekAlert hack, the FDA's manipulation of reporters, and other news to argue that embargoes are just plain bad: "It’s clear that a lot of the power of embargoes would go away if journalists stopped believing they had to publish a story or post a blog the minute a new study came out. Sure, I get the value of a news peg. I used to run a wire service, Reuters Health, that covers health. But it warps the public’s understanding of how science works."
Alan Cassels reviews some studies of the association between reading medical news and developing stress-related medical problems, and concludes that what you read just might make you feel bad: "At the end of the day, health fear-mongering is bad for you and you should do what you can to immunize yourself from its pernicious influence. Journalists (and readers) need a better tuned fear-mongering radar to detect elements that are more likely to scare than inform readers."
Using a much-discussed New Yorker story on epigenetics as her starting point, Sara Talpos offers her views on whether it's possible to use literary nonfiction tools in writing about science without corrupting the science in the process: "I’ve realized something that will surprise no one: Literary science writing is hard. Sometimes the demands for scientific accuracy and literary style do compete. But all good writing juggles competing, sometimes conflicting demands."
Kelly Crowe writes about a pharmaceutical company's "stealth marketing campaign" using a comedian to drum up interest in a condition that the company's product treats. She quotes from a press release on the comedian's "mission", and writes: "But nowhere did it say this 'mission' was initiated and sponsored by Novo Nordisk Canada Inc., which makes a vaginal hormone pill. Nor did GCI's release specify that Jones was paid to give media interviews about vaginal atrophy."
It took a few days for Tara Haelle to hear about the EurekAlert news-release service's outage. Now that it's back, she's questioning its value: "The press releases in EurekAlert! often represent those able to afford to promote their studies and they may or may not choose the 'best' studies. Deciding which findings to write about should be predominantly a journalist’s job, uninfluenced by the offering of press releases out there (even though we know that’s not reality)."
Chinyere Amobi interviews psychiatry Professor Glenda Wrenn on how journalists can help trauma victims recover: "When people are telling their story they include the ups and downs, and it’s the listener that has the bias to want to tell that positive story. I think what’s needed is a change in posture: to listen to those downs and try to include them — not just what fits into a nice arc for a story, but recognizing that the downs are part of the resilience narrative."
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.