The near-neurotic self-examination among journalists, including and maybe especially by those on the science, medical, enviro, and related beats, gets two fine examples that came across the transom in the last few days.
- The Hindu – Vasudevan Mukunth: Hey Indian science-stories reader, I'd like to hear from you! / A mildly confused science writer asks for help. And then braces himself: This is a blog post. Mukunth provides his personal email address and tells readers to let him have it. The writer's blog spot is called The Copernican, a sign right there that he has a rarefied appreciation for basic science. One suspects his editors prefer a deep appreciation for news that readers can use. He writes well, and being new to the science beat, he asks questions that have a near-universal meaning for anybody who reports on science for general media.
Here is an excerpt from Sri Mukunth's post, to capture its flavor
I've heard from many people that the Indian audience just isn't ready for pure science stuff. Is this true? Would you like things to be more practical/practicable? Why or why not? Pure science is something I love writing about, but with every piece I find the need to include why pure science is important to humankind, or I/we receive the same comments: "Of what use is this?"
Or do I interpret wrong? The Hindu is one of few newspapers in India that have a page devoted to science & tech. (albeit just once a week). And, on behalf of the science desk, I can tell you we take a lot of time and trouble to select and edit our stories for the page. If you think they're not interesting, I just might not be the good writer you deserve, so your feedback can go a long way in setting that doubt right.
Maybe some of us far from India might take a moment to answer his queries – and maybe to welcome him to the clan?
- Ars Technica – John Timmer: Applying science to communicate science / right now, it's hard to find relevant information on how to do it well ; Another universal sort of plea, this one from a veteran. He wonders why so many readers just don't think like scientists (or like good reporters for that matter). That is, skeptically while also open to new information that might change ones mind and while attentive to rules of evidence and while trying to keep b.s. meters honed.
Here's an excerpt from this to see what Timmer is driving at:
What I suggest we need is a discipline that's filled with people who are willing to comb the literature for the most up-to-date findings and figure out whether they're likely to be reliable. They then need to determine which groups of communicators the results might apply to and test whether applying them actually leads to better communication. Ultimately, these applied scientists need to try to make sure that the communicators themselves actually know about what they find. As far as I know, an applied communications discipline doesn't really exist, and I've not seen any group make a big deal about funding it—even groups that have a vested interest in effective science communications.
Right now, what we tend to have instead is science communicators being told that they're doing things wrong (or they're being given advice that doesn't apply to them). It would be nice if we could have some more focused advice on how different types of communicators could do things right.
So far, Timmer has 45 comments. Some are on the turgid side. But several are pretty sharp. Such as one with the following remark: "I am all for making sure the science of #scicomm is rigorous. But I hope you see the irony of asking for 'applied science' to help. Engineering is not known as an area where practitioners easily communicate about their work."