What does it take to be a science journalist?

Science journalists, you really piss me off…at least some of you. Here are a couple of headlines about that recent paper I summarized that make me want to slap someone.

Eye evolution questioned.” No, it’s not. That’s just trying to stir up a non-existent controversy. The eye evolved. This was a paper exploring the details of how specific photoreceptor types with the eye evolved. (I should mention that the summary is OK, but the headline was stupid. Maybe I ought to slap the editor.)

Ancient Origins of the Human Eye Discovered.” Aaargh, it’s a paper about brachiopods, not humans, and it’s about the evolution of protostomes as well as deuterostomes…it’s about the whole frackin’ animal kingdom, not just our self-exalted little twig.

Both of those headlines are about the very same paper, and I get the impression the reporters hadn’t even read it, but instead relied on teasing out comprehensible angles from interviews. We ought to have a rule: if you can’t read the research and comprehend it, you shouldn’t be writing about it. I know, suddenly 9/10ths of the science journalists in the world are abruptly unemployed.

Ben Goldacre offers some excellent commentary on this problem. Read it if you’re hoping to be a professional science communicator. I agree with him: you don’t need a Ph.D., but you do have to have some knowledge of the field you are reporting on, and most importantly, a passion to learn more about it.