On science blogs this week: Writing underwriting

No better place to commence this new column on science writing for science writers than with some optimism about clearing up our profession's cloudy future. Literally cloudy, according to Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin, who discusses what he calls "cloud financing" of investigative work by science journalists. Revkin's example is a Nov. 9 New York Times piece by Lindsey Hoshaw on vast trash heaps in the ocean.

 

No better place to commence this new column on science writing for science writers than with some optimism about clearing up our profession's cloudy future. Literally cloudy, according to Dot Earth's Andrew Revkin, who discusses what he calls "cloud financing" of investigative work by science journalists. Revkin's example is a Nov. 9 New York Times piece by Lindsey Hoshaw on vast trash heaps in the ocean.

Hoshaw's travel was underwritten by Spot.us, which describes its aim thus: "Spot Journalism will provide a new way to pay for local investigative reporting by soliciting financial support from the public. Through this project, independent journalists and residents will propose stories, while Spot Journalism uses the Web to seek 'micro-payments' to cover the costs. If enough donors contribute the amount needed, a journalist will be hired to do the reporting. The money has to come from a variety of sources, though. Each project will need many small contributions before being approved in order to avoid personal crusades. In addition to offering a new model for investigative work, Spot Journalism will provide a way to discover the issues important to a community while giving a voice to those who wonder why a given problem is not being investigated." The line forms here.

Ed Yong's Not Exactly Rocket Science is a consistently illuminating home for long, thoughtful, and thorough explorations of science news. I selected this particular post because it's strong on background about the FOXP2 "language gene" that's dominated science news this week.

As for national and even international news, you wouldn't think science writers have much to say about the Fort Hood carnage, except maybe sidebars on post-traumatic stress. But the shootings have prompted some science bloggers to explore technical and policy aspects of the firearms. See, for example, Mike Dunford at The Questionable Authority.

Scicurious at Neurotopia has begun a tiresomely cutesy, although informative, series on oxytocin, the hormone/neurotransmitter probably best known for its influence on maternal behavior. And she buries the lede, relegating "oxytocin makes for some GREAT weird science. :)" to the middle of the second graf. But there are lots of facts. Find the introductory post here. A description of oxytocin's effects on women, orgasmic as well as maternal, is here and another one here. That last one is graphic. Literally. Scicurious says stay tuned next week for the oxytocining of men and more.

Science Insider's Sam Kean delves into dark doings in clinical trial reports described this week by NEJM and Annals of Family Medicine. One naughty but much-loved tactic is mid-trial changes in measures of outcome originally set in the studies' planning phases. It goes without saying that the changes always seem to generate rosier results for the therapy being evaluated.

It's a Pluto-fest at Wired Science. A number of posts take up the cause of the ex-planet, and they seem to be connected, ahem, to the release of Alan Boyle's new book The Case for Pluto. Excerpt here and an interview here. My favorite post, though, is the Dwarf-Planet Rebranding Contest wherein Wired Science seeks a new name for the celestial bodies formerly known as dwarf planets. And my favorite favorite is the Comment from Ran, who suggests "Colbert" and intones, "If this is not the Name the aliens win."

Flip Tanedo at the US/LHC Blogs tracks the latest shutdown at CERN's Large Hadron Collider. It's much blogged-about but has a hoax-y feel. Can it be true that a critical cooling unit at the LHC was paralyzed by a piece of bread? And that the offender was not just bread, but a chunk of baguette? CERN theorizes that the morsel was dropped by a bird. Or a plane. But not, it seems, Superman.

Tanedo does a creditable detecting job on this apocryphal-sounding tale, which apparently really happened. He claims to be simply an honest academic, but if he runs out of work in particle physics, perhaps he has a future in science journalism. Whereupon he can get in line behind the rest of us applying for support from Spot.us.

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