Yesterday over at Cosmic Variance, I left a comment promising I’d have more to say on the whole question of science communication amid the current upheaval in the media industry. And today I do–my latest Science Progress column just went up, and it wades into a new debate in this area that has been sparked by recent articles in Nature, Columbia Journalism Review, and elsewhere.
Let’s just say I got a little fired up in this column. I’m kind of upset that in all this discussion of traditional science journalism declining, and science blogging booming, nobody is thinking about the people who are suffering. So I kind of teed off, as follows:
For the most part, blogging isn’t a career. As matters currently stand, most bloggers can’t expect to support a family, get health insurance, a retirement plan, etc, simply through blogging alone. At best they’re the equivalent of faculty adjuncts, never destined for the tenure track.
That’s why the science journalists who you find blogging tend to be freelance or unattached science journalists, and also book authors. We’re entrepreneurs and hacks of all trades; we do a whole bunch of different kinds of things; blogging is just one more to add on the pile. (And we’d be glad to take adjunct work too!)
In other words, our economic models are individualistic and entrepreneurial. One can scarcely doubt that there will always be people in the media willing—or crazy enough—to roll this way. We’re the types to to cry “Freedom!” at the top of our lungs while the media industry removes our entrails. But the question is, what happens to everybody else? The death of traditional science journalism is a death of pensions, healthcare, and childbearing leave. It is a harsh exposure of science journalism to the elements.
That’s why it was so beyond the pale to find a university faculty scientist and science blogger, University of Toronto biochemistry professor Larry Moran, commenting on my blog (quoted by Nature) that “Seriously, most of what passes for science journalism is so bad we will be better of without it…Science journalists have let us down. I say good riddance.” In other words, send them out into the cold.
The point is that we can’t just discuss the “death of science journalism,” and the potential replacement thereof by blogging, in the abstract. There’s a ton of pain out there right now. I close the column by suggesting the real problem is the lack of solidarity among people who cover science in the media, new or old. They care about scientific knowledge, but do they care about each other?
You can read the full column here.