Another Death Knell for Science Journalism–From Natalie Angier

By Chris Mooney | December 15, 2009 12:49 pm

angierI just saw this story–it reads very consistently, if also disturbingly, with yesterday’s Andrew Revkin news. Natalie Angier, the celebrated science writer and author of The Canon, among other works, now opines that newspaper science reporting is “basically going out of business.” She ought to know–having reported at the New York Times for nearly two decades. Plus, she ought to know because her husband, Rick Weiss (whose story is discussed in Unscientific America) last year left the Washington Post.

It is a tough world out there for those who produce the content that we here care about. And it is getting tougher. And so far, I have not seen the media-economic model that can save us….

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Media and Science

Comments (14)

  1. You are right, as usual, Chris. Now, we just get our reminders of the role of science from cosmetics commercials.

  2. It seems to me that the loss of science reporting in newspapers is part of the decrease in overall original investigative reporting. And when newspapers were more economically stable, they could indulge in paying quality science writers. Now that they are desperate to maximize profits it likely seems to make more economic sense to just rewrite the (often oversimplified and/or exaggerated) science-related press releases.

    The future of popular science reporting seems to be “edutainment” television programs that have splashy special effects, but often misrepresent the actual science. Dinosaurs! A discovery that will change everything! Ancient secrets revealed!

    (To be fair, I think it has always been the case that most of the public prefers spectacle to nuanced reporting. It’s just that there seems to be fewer options these days for those of us who prefer the latter.)

  3. badnicolez

    Perhaps if science reporting focused on reporting science and not promoting political AGW propaganda, those of us who are interested in science would read those publications more frequently for our science news.

  4. badnicolez Says:

    Perhaps if science reporting focused on reporting science and not promoting political AGW propaganda….

    Since it is science reporting, they report—or should report—what scientists say. What science writers should not report is pseudoscientifc mumbojumbo from mining engineers, oil state politicians, TV weathermen, and nutty British aristocrats (although, in the interest of “balance”, that stuff usually gets reported anyway).

    And once you get past Lindzen and a few others, it’s pretty damn hard to find a real scientist with relevant expertise who disagrees with the basic thinking on AGW.

  5. Brian Too

    @badnicolez,

    I guess those science reporters, they have a real problem huh? Not to mention all the scientists themselves. They’re all biased and Socialists. Can’t trust ‘em. Of course the Internet now, that’s where the truth can be found, right?

    You probably want them to stop all that AGW talk completely now. How about you develop a committee, maybe something with real muscle, say a government committee. Then you can suppress all that annoying, slanted, Communist AGW reportage. You can be in charge!

    But you don’t have a problem, do you? You know the truth. Good for you. Stay faithful. Support the deniers and stay the course!

  6. Gaythia

    It isn’t just science reporting, Chris, there are a lot of areas in which the US is failing to actively grasp the future. Our economy, and our society will be the worse for it if we cannot turn things around.

  7. I hope we don’t lose Natalie too: she’s always been my favorite science writer over at the Times (no offense, Carl). :-(

  8. Marion Delgado

    Markets don’t give you what you want OR need – they trade whatever you can scrape up by way of labor or money for what, crudely expressed, the owners of resources and physical plant and the providers of finance and credit want to offer, and you then try to cobble together what you want and need from the menu you’re given.

    It’s an unscientific folk-tale from the Golden Age of Capitalist Mythology that, surely, something *must* come along in the unbridled, viciously unequal Gilded Age/Robber Baron world to “fill the gap” that, in point of fact, what Adam Smith called the masters of mankind don’t even see.

    To Dickens’ EXCELLENT summary via Scrooge of their attitude to social safety nets, we should add “Are the press releases circulating? Do the laws get written by our lobbyists? Are people free of confusing education that would be unprofitable or lead to power-sharing? Then all is well.”

  9. Are they at least getting rid of that Tierney guy too?

  10. Marion, I like your style. Now, how do we get you best paragraph down to a t-shirt?

    Markets don’t give you what you want OR need – they trade whatever you can scrape up by way of labor or money for what, crudely expressed, the owners of resources and physical plant and the providers of finance and credit want to offer, and you then try to cobble together what you want and need from the menu you’re given.

  11. With a bit of luck, the wind will be ever at Andy Revkin’s back.

  12. JJ

    The problem is that less people acknowledge print media today. If a newspaper has to cut back to lower costs, they’re going to cut the non-essential sections such as the science column, etc. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the Darwinistic nature of the free market.

  13. gillt

    I think you mean “Continued Death Knell For Science Journalism…”

    I mean, how many death knells can one thing have?

  14. Marion Delgado

    Steven, I agree, and I wasn’t so keen on him before he announced he was quitting.

    JJ I think, honestly, we should acclimate people to a teeny, tiney news hole, maybe. It would be ironic if dailies became tiny – really tiny – and weeklies flourished because they’re free and mostly ads, but that’s the future I foresee. Maybe you can’t combine “newspaper” with “science coverage” for anything but a large area. For instance, here in Eugene, we might need to start a science weekly, that covers Eugene, Corvalllis, Salem and points in between, and is just science-related. And even that would have to be pop, and sensationalist enough to make people’s eyes roll.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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