There is a bit of a foofaraw going on right now in the science blogosphere concerning the relative ability of actual working scientists versus science journalists to convey the content of scientific advances to the general public. There are three main points I want to make here. The first concerns whether conveying the content of scientific advances to the general public is even a worthwhile goal. The second concerns whether science journalists are mostly clueless fuckwits who hinder, rather than advance, general understanding of the relevance of science to their daily lives. The third concerns whether the stylistic freedom enjoyed by science bloggers harms the communication of science to the general public. (It should go without saying that these issues arise in the more general case of blogging versus journalism, and have been explored in that general case deeply by outstanding bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and Digby.)
(1) Communicating the substantive content of scientific discoveries to the general public is a red herring. What needs to be communicated to members of the general public is the *importance* of science to their daily lives. Everybody understands that engineering is really, really important for making sure, e.g., that bridges and buildings don’t fall down, that planes don’t routinely plummet from the sky, etc. But they don’t give a flying fuck about the actual content of civil or aeronautical engineering principles.
Yes, there are enthusiasts who are interested in the details, but trying to explain the details to non-enthusiast members of the public is a fool’s errand. What scientists do need to do is convincingly explain what practical outcomes that hugely influence people’s daily lives would never have occurred without a robust scientific enterprise.
(2) The vast majority of science journalists suck complete total ass at correctly conveying the content of scientific advances. Here’s just one example from a few days ago in CNN:
updated 3:24 a.m. EST, Tue December 23, 2008
Scientist: Stem cells could end animal testing
There is not a single quote from any scientist in that article that suggests anything even close to “stem cells could end animal testing”. What the quoted scientist is asserting is that tests based on stem-cell derived tissues could exclude particular drugs from further animal and human testing. But there is not a single legitimate drug discovery scientist in the entire fucking world who would ever assert that any drug could ever be tested on human beings without first being tested on live animals. Period. This is because of that thing called physiomotherfuckinology!!
And, yeah, some science journalists have whined that it’s not their fault when editors write headlines sensationalistically. Well, first, this sentence appears in the piece:
Even if stem cell drug testing does mark the beginning of the end for animal testing, the ethical vacuum is already being filled by another storm of controversy surrounding the use of embryonic stem cells.
If you’re a clueless fuckwit editor who doesn’t know jack didly shit about drug discovery or physiomotherfuckinology, and you read this sentence, it’s only natural to assume that the point of the article is that stem cell research could end animal testing. And if the journalist never wrote that sentence, or its meaning was distorted in the editorial process, then the journalist can simply refuse to write for publications that grossly distort their pieces.
(3) A couple of douchecornet science journalists apparently got all up in a tizzie about the wonderful blogger and actual working scientist ERV, complaining that because she writes with a very colloquial style that incorporates elements of LOLspeak to convey her enthusiasm for the scientific content she writes about, instead of using the traditional journalistic style taught in journalism schools and newsrooms, she is RUINING EVERYTHING!!!!1!1!!1!1!!!! If you want to follow up on this in more detail, Almost Diamonds collects some of the important links here.
ERV is an awesome fucking writer. And what some of these assholes seem not to understand is that the purpose of writing a motherfucking blog is totally different from the purpose of writing a scientific paper or an article in Science Times or a letter to the editor of the Journal of Toenail Fungus.
It’s a motherfucking relief for scientists–many of whom are outstanding writers–to be able to relax their writing from the shackles of “In order to test the hypothesis that blah, blah, blah, we performed the following experiments”, or “While it is known that blah, blah, blah, bleh, bleh, bleh remains a key question the field. We thus propose the following specific aims”. That shit has its place, and is the bread-and-butter writing of working scientists. We blog to get the fuck away from that shit!!!!!!
If these dumbfuck journalists don’t like it, then let them put us out of business competitively by writing more compellingly. If dumbass thinks ERV’s blog is TEH SUX00RS, then let him write about virology so compellingly and comprehensively that no one bothers to read ERV’s virology posts anymore. Otherwise, shit-for-brains journamalists can kiss my ass.