On science blogs this week: Still Hippocritical

Healthcare on life support. Embargoes. Climate of death threats. The last of ScienceOnline2010 online. Will the sanguinary iPad save print media?

 

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STILL HEALTHCARELESS. But not quite dead yet, so it is said of healthcare/health insurance reform. Possibly it is even slightly more animated since the Obama State of the Union speech Wednesday night, in which he tried to stiffen Congressional backbone. Mostly it was jobs, jobs, jobs, but healthcare was there too, somewhere in the middle.

Some sample readings of the runes, entrails, and tea leaves: Jacob Goldstein on the Wall Street Journal's Health Blog forecasts fewer sweeping changes and more focus on health insurance regulation. He includes excerpts from the Obama speech and the Republican response.

Chris Fleming at the Health Affairs blog describes a pre-speech press conference called by a coalition of groups favoring reform. They don't want the cherry-picking approach Goldstein foresees. Fleming describes legislative tactics that, as I write, seem to have some traction:

"First, the administration and Congressional negotiators would agree on a compromise, melding together the House and Senate health reform bills. Then language necessary to revise the Senate bill to conform to this compromise would be included in a "Budget Reconciliation" measure, which under Senate rules could be passed by a simple majority vote. Then the House would pass both the original Senate legislation and the Reconciliation measure, sending both bills to President Obama for his signature."

On the New York Times's Prescriptions blog Wednesday, David Herszenhorn outlines a similar approach, as described by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But by Thursday, Pelosi was sounding more like a cherry-picker.

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray explains why at the Daily Dose: Both approaches are, as we say in Washington, on the table. The Democrats vow they will decide which next week.

"If health-care reform dies, it will not die in a climactic vote. It will die amidst everyone pledging their continued commitment to the issue, but their aversion to doing it right this second." That's just one of the things the Washington Post's Ezra Klein has to say in several illuminating/depressing posts on healthcare politics. Samples here and here.

Oy. Let's move on.

ITEM OF PROFESSIONAL INTEREST I. Ivan Oransky's thoughtful meditation on news embargoes melds personal experience with the Big Picture. It's recounted on AHCJ's Covering Health blog. Full disclosure: I'm an AHCJ member and have written several things for Ivan in his past incarnations.

ITEM OF PROFESSIONAL INTEREST II. Faye Flam is a long-time science journalist at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it is now clear that she is also quite brave. In a guest post at Cosmic Variance, she recounts what happened after she wrote about the ClimateGate email scandal, discussed in this space last year. Death threats? For a science writer? Scary. Very scary.

SCIENCEONLINE2010 FINAL APPEARANCE, I PROMISE. Coturnix has published a massive summing up of this recent not-online conference in the North Carolina Research Triangle, previously discussed in this space most recently last time. I confess I haven't read it all, but one observation is particularly noteworthy. Attendee postmortems emphasized that, for many, the highlight of the conference was meeting people. The chief request for future meetings was more time for informal conversations.

That seems to me quite remarkable. People who went to the conference are experienced and devoted social networkers who live online. But what they valued — and want more of — is personal encounters. That doesn't spell the beginning of the end for social networking, of course. But at a minimum it means that, whatever voids the social networking venues fill, they are not enough. Even — or maybe especially? — for those who use them most. There's a dissertation in there someplace.

WILL THE iPAD RESCUE THE PRINT MEDIA? Ezra Klein hops from health care to communications technology, declaring that the iPad will not save newspapers. As you know unless you've been on Mars trying to fix the Spirit rover, the iPad, announced Wednesday but not to be available for at least two months, is Apple's incipient blockbuster. The iPad is a ginormous iPod Touch with a touch of Kindle Reader, only more so. Joel Achenbach expects to use it to study exoplanet atmospheres.

One of the speculations about the iPad is that it could not only save the newspaper industry, but also magazines and books, a prospect that should make science writer spirits lift. If it happens. Timothy Egan of iCountry News thinks it may result in writers being paid less. It's possible to pay writers even less?

Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Labs says the iPad is not going to change the established economics of online content, which is that information wants to be free. (Well, strictly speaking, consumers of information want it to be free.) He doesn't think the iPad will affect magazine economics either. But Benton argues that advertising will be a big winner.

If that's so, surely more and different kinds of ads would help the vehicles that carry ads, namely newspapers and magazines, both paper and digital? And here's a terrifying extrapolation: will spiffier ad displays (and capitalist incentives) lead to advertising in e-books?

SANGUINE ABOUT THE iPAD. Amusement emerged from the iPad announcement too, but it came from biology, not technology. The name "iPad" was subject to relentlessly ribald blog and Twitter allusions to feminine hygiene products — and many links to the prescient and now-notorious clip from a 2008 episode of the defunct Mad TV. I will link too because the commercial is brilliant. WARNING: gross-out potential here for some.

At the Inverse Square blog, Tom Levenson published a gorgeous big portrait of Ada Lovelace (1815-1852, so brief a life), deviser of the first machine algorithm. It headed his report on the twits declaring that Apple had made a major naming gaffe simply because there are so few female geeks. A critical mass of women, the argument went, could have explained the facts of life to the company, warning Apple off its impolitic, um, Appellation.

I'm not so sure. What was your first association on seeing the word iPad? Mine was a stack of paper, glued or spiral-bound at top, not something from the FHP aisle(s) at Target. What else could Apple have called it? iPad seems to me an utterly sensible name for a tablet-like product in the Apple iParade.

My hunch is that a lot of those iPad snickers are coming from certain guys. You know which ones. The ones who will always view the female reproductive system from the vantage point of sixth grade.

January 29, 2010

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