Issues in science writing

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Issues in science writing

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?

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.

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."

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?"

Dana Nuccitelli discusses a report from Media Matters for America on climate coverage in U.S. broadcast news and writes that it dropped in 2015 despite major events like the Paris agreement: "Most of the decline was due to ABC, which only spent 13 minutes in 2015 covering climate change — three times less than even Fox. While Fox’s coverage increased, most of the network’s climate segments featured interviews with guests who criticized efforts to address global warming."

Michael Schulson set off a Twitterstorm on Tuesday with his Pacific Standard critique of science reporting: "Today, most science coverage still follows a press release model. Articles focus on individual studies, as they come out. Reporters rarely return to research years down the line. Articles provide little context or criticism, and they usually frame the story within a larger narrative of human progress." Schulson responds to his critics.

Cynthia Barnett interviews Curt Guyette, a Ford Foundation-funded investigative reporter working for the American Civil Liberties Union, about his efforts to call attention to the Flint drinking water crisis, and about being a journalist who is employed by an advocacy group: "It was my personal evolution and my professional evolution as a journalist … What I hope I've established is that what matters is the work itself, and whether it stands up to scrutiny or not."

Do the conflict-of-interest rules that apply to staff writers also apply to freelancers? They might, at some outlets, and freelancers may be surprised to learn that, Whitney Pipkin writes: "How should someone who works for a dozen clients with various funding models determine what constitutes a conflict? And — in an American economy that could be 40 percent freelance by 2020 — is it enough to have a policy that doesn’t separately address the nuances of contract work?"

Paul Raeburn marks the return of the Tracker (formerly the Knight Science Journalism Tracker) with a post on two recent incidents, including Caltech's playing favorites with its news release on Planet 9: "The school won’t identify them, but Scientific American, the Washington Post, Science, and Popular Science were among publications that produced stories on Jan. 20 with comments from one or both of the study’s authors, suggesting they had the early access."

From Maria Popova comes an excerpt from a conversation — with a bonus animation — between feminist icon Gloria Steinem and astronaut Sally Ride, who says the worst part of her training involved journalists: "Everybody wanted to know what kind of makeup I was taking up — they didn’t care about how well-prepared I was to operate the arm or deploy communication satellites … The worst question that I’ve gotten was whether I cried when we got malfunctions in the simulator."