by Joel Barkan
Last week, The New York Times, among other media outlets, reported on the discovery of seven new species of deep-sea worms. While the discovery is important for our understanding of the evolutionary history of annelids, the real draw is the worms’ unique defense mechanism. Some of these worms possess an appendage that, when released into the water, emits a bright green flash of bioluminescence—a “green bomb.” Like an octopus retreating behind a cloud of ink, the worm can flee while its predator ponders this green distraction.
The media coverage of this study made me think about how slowly scientific research is disseminated to the public. One of the scientists who participated in this study is Dr. Greg Rouse, a marine invertebrate biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Rouse lectured to my class back in June and casually mentioned these “green bombers” he had helped discover. Two months later, the study was picked up and publicized by the national media.
Contrast this to yesterday, when Senator Ted Kennedy’s death was immediately Twittered by thousands. Or the past few weeks, when congressional debates and presidential town hall meetings on health care played out every day on the internet and on television. We’re living in an age with virtually no delay between when news happens and when news is reported. Yet science lags behind.
Is this a bad thing? I’m not quite sure. We call it “the scientific method” for a reason: it’s methodological. Science is supposed to be slow, to make sure you don’t mess up. But is there a speedier way to broadcast scientific information than wading through the muck of the publishing process?
Would you follow Dr. Greg Rouse on Twitter?