Issues in science writing

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Issues in science writing

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.

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.

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."

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."

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."

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."