Say, that kind of looks like sort of a trend

Uh-oh — I told a student just last week that I thought she’d make an excellent science journalist. Maybe it wasn’t such good advice.

95 weekly science sections in newspapers in 1989

34 weekly science sections in newspapers in 2005

19 weekly science sections in newspapers in 2012


  1. Emptyell says

    …and less paper in the ones that remain. When it comes time to trim content I suspect automotive, sports and lifestyle sections will fare better than science.

  2. marcus says

    For my part I have pretty much stopped looking in the regular press for well-written, intelligent science articles as I find that usually anything in that field that is very interesting will show up on FTB. I do scan about for good science writing but for science on a level of a layperson (me) FTB is the best. (unsolicited endorsement.)
    This does not bode well for the general population though, for as has been noted here umpteen times: a scientifically and technically informed populace is critical for a properly run, moral society.

  3. chigau (無味ない) says

    Have you visited the ‘science’ section in your local bookstore recently?
    [If the bookstore even has a science section.]
    [If you even have a local bookstore.]

  4. anchor says

    Perhaps that decline demonstrates we need decent science journalism now more than ever.

    It still good advice, PZ. It may be a wasteland now (thinking of the aftermath of like Mt. St. Helens, say, or even the Earth suffering a major shot by an asteroid) but think of it as a potential niche to get filled – first by hardy, sharp and dedicated ‘generalist’ pioneer species (after all, some good ones, though relatively few, still survive in the harsh conditions and continue to flourish, which demonstrates that it can be done and that there is a market). Then it increasingly gains in microniche richness by a diverse array of ‘specialists’ who can all make a fine living communicating science to a public, who must eventually catch on that there is a sustainably bountiful, practical and nutritious harvest of information and wonder to reap from the realm of reality that beats the crap out of the commercialist-driven junk-food starvation regimen they are currently force-fed.

    Life overcomes setbacks with stormy ecoweather. It won’t let a volcano or an asteroid impact knock it out. Survivors find opportunity.

  5. angelakingdom says

    Not just newsprint. Most of the television companies only pay lip service to the sciences apart from the BBC even though they tend to be dumbed-down popular science programmes. However, the BBC does display a revolting deference when reporting religion.

  6. Steve LaBonne says

    For my part I have pretty much stopped looking in the regular press for well-written, intelligent science articles


  7. marcus says

    chigau @ 6 The independent bookstore that I work at (we are hanging on thanks to very generous and well-disposed owners, thank dog) has an excellent science and math section where we have corralled all the usual suspects. I am looking forward to shelving PZ’s first book. Thanks for your concern (sincerely), marcus

  8. cicely (No Description Available.) says

    Science journalism and investigative reporting are skipping arm-in-arm into extinction. Almost makes me think that Today’s Vestigial News-Reading Public wants no truck with “reality”.

  9. frankensteinmonster says

    Do you hear it now ? This eerie silence is the sound of the new dark age coming.

  10. alwayscurious says

    Science journalism may be a field under duress, but we need people who can communicate good science effectively to the masses. There is a huge shortfall in that department in every media outlet.

  11. says


    Every field, everywhere, needs people who can communicate the subject matter effectively to the masses. Unfortunately, the only field which has decided to actually pay for this talent is advertising, which has nothing to say which is worth communicating, and schools wisely do not bother to convince students to select this as a career path. The result is that Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Guides are often better at explaining a subject than textbooks costing several times as much.

  12. Rich Woods says

    I must admit I only sample a handful of newspapers in the average week, so I can’t say much about science journalism in the round. However, I can say anecdotally that while I’ve read some very good articles in recent times, I have also read some absolute drivel. I’d just like the standard (however it’s measured in reality) to be higher. I don’t think that would hurt anybody.

  13. devnll says

    What is this news-paper of which you speak? Is that that free thing full of ads they’re always leaving on my driveway? I wholeheartedly protest against its getting any shorter! What would I line the ferret cage with?

  14. says

    My local B&N has a pretty impressive science section. This Xmas I spent at least an hour in there selecting gifts for Mr. Evil and drooling over future gifts for myself. As an aspiring science journalist, I find those numbers in the OP disheartening, though. Maybe I’d do better in another field, but I don’t really want to think about that.

  15. says

    At some point it’s going to be inescapable that the old advertising-support model for journalism is dead, and if we want journalism it’ll need to be supported some other way. The old saying is that if you’re not paying for it then you are the product applies, of course. So if we don’t want corporatist pseudo-journalism to be all that’s left, we’ll need to find some way to fund it either out of general tax receipts (yeah, right) or some dedicated fee/tax.

    My dream is we eventually have a universal content fee that entitles you to all content of all kinds, and the creators of the content get paid out of the fee, based on how much their content is consumed. The fee would need to be fairly hefty, but it could replace cable fees and most other entertainment fees, assuming that entertainment was delivered via IP. The same funds could fund e-journalists.

  16. DLC says

    And the quality of science reporting from the few who are left is somewhat upwards from Abysmal.
    If it doesn’t cause cancer, it cures it. The Higgs boson will prove the existence of gods. Fish that have lived near oil rigs are good for you. All forms of electric power generation are evil. I’ve seen all of those in popular media science reporting. I almost think it would be good to go without, but then I think of the consequences of that and realize : “better poor science reporting than none.”
    Which makes me feel a bit dirty.

  17. Abdul Alhazred says

    Newspapers as such are not a healthy industry.

    Any would be science journalist should look to some other venue.

  18. MHiggo says

    Any would be science journalist should look to some other venue.

    Not sure how many venues are left where one can be a full-time science journalist and still keep food on the table. Magazines don’t seem to be in much ruder health than newspapers, and angelakingdom (#8) is correct that TV and radio offer little hope. T’Internet could be a boon for science journalism, but jamesheartney (#19) hits upon the crucial question: How can content providers convince consumers to pay for what they’ve been conditioned to receive for free?

    An educated, informed populace is essential to a properly functioning democracy, but it’s difficult to sustain that when an increasingly large part of the industry is staffed by kids fresh out of J-school and people doing the journalism thing in their spare time.

  19. says

    what about technology journalism? I agree that Science and Technology are not the same thing but they do connect and overlap

    an accurate inventory of how much science the public is exposed to would have to include technology info, maybe a weighting factor? a multiplier that can be applied?

    like maybe 1 hour of Discovery Channel X 30% factor = 18 min of science TV? 1 page of Farhad Manjoo = 1/4 page of Bill Nye?

    just a thought

  20. John Morales says

    Patrick Fitzgerald, then you’d need to take into account ‘negative science’ (pseudoscience).