I was most surprised and honored to find out this morning that the Annals of Neurology has declared Neuroskeptic to be
Irreverent, sometimes profane, and can skirt the boundaries of good taste. Nonetheless, Neuroskeptic covers a rich mixture of important, engaging, or amusing topics focusing on the basic and clinical neurosciences, and does so in a data-driven, user-friendly, and comment-enabled format. Neuroskeptic is only one of a number of increasingly used web sites and blogs dedicated to promoting public education, rational discourse, and a healthy dose of skepticism around important issues in the neurosciences…
No really: Scientific literacy and the media. They also list a small number of other neuroblogs, although they leave out many outstanding ones including the blog that most inspired this one, and that everyone confuses me with, The Neurocritic.
Anyway, the editorial goes on to note that:
Last April, a series of sensationalist stories reporting the “creation of life” and a newfound capability to “play God” appeared in the national media following the demonstration that synthetic DNA could transform a mycoplasma species from one to another subtype(ref). This represented a tour de force of DNA synthesis, but probably only a modest step forward for the science of genetic engineering.
In response, President Obama directed his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to prepare a comprehensive advisory report to help frame policies about synthetic biology(ref).
The Commission noted that sensationalist headlines may attract readers to scientific topics but do a terrible disservice by promoting “claims that fail to convey accurately to the public the current state of the field, the implications of research results, and the limits of scientists’ present knowledge and abilities.” The Presidential Commission recommended creating a well-funded, interactive website… to monitor claims about new scientific discoveries and technologies.
Ideally, such a site would be only part of a wider effort to promote scientific literacy and critical thinking across all segments of society… In the coming years, scientific innovation is certain to play an increasingly large role in the global economy… The public discourse on these and related matters needs to be rational, evidence-based, and accurate.
Broadly speaking, this is why I write this blog, because it is indeed extremely important. Well, ok, the real reason is that it gives me an excuse to make funny pictures with MS Paint (someone accused me of using Photoshop to do those once – no, that would be too advanced). However, if a few people understand neuroscience a bit better in the process, I can live with that…
Hauser, S., & Johnston, S. (2011). Scientific literacy and the media Annals of Neurology, 69 (3) DOI: 10.1002/ana.22410