Science Blogging Versus Science Journalism
    By Tommaso Dorigo | June 13th 2014 05:18 AM | 4 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    I have spent the last few days at a School of Science Journalism in the pleasant town of Erice, in western Sicily. The school, held at the Ettore Majorana Centre for Scientific Culture, brought together science communicators, freelance writers, magazine editors and press office consultants to listen to a small set of lectures, which this year (the fifth of the school) centered on the topic of "the digital world".

    I contributed to the lessons with a 1-hour seminar titled "Science Blogging versus Science Journalism". I do not particularly like the title of my presentation, which was offered by the organizers, as I do not see the two activities in competition with each other much. Hence I tried to organize my lecture as a discussion of things that science journalist wannabes could be interested to hear, from a scientist who has been blogging for 10 years and has picked up some tricks and lessons along the way.

    My audience was actually of higher level than what one could imagine for a "School": most of the participants have had a job in science journalism or related areas for a few years, and there is little that they do not know about the world of science blogging - a good part of them in fact do run blogs. But the feedback I got was quite positive, and suggests that the topics I covered were not off-target.

    Below I am dumping a few of the slides of my talk, with minimal commentary. Feel free to comment on the content in the comments thread below - but please no more discussion on Lubos Motl here (see previous post)...

    After a historical introduction of the blogging phenomenon, I discussed the reason that drives scientists to the medium... The slide above introduces the topic

    Researchers also have reasons to avoid blogging... Above there's a short summary, but I didscussed the topic in more detail.

    Some of the issues I dealt with are in the slide above.

    Speaking to science journalists, I was wary to use comparatives... However, of course there are things that make the blog of a research scientist different from that of a science reporter.

    Of course an advantage over printed matter is speed...

    The slide above is my bottomline of this part of the talk... Science journalists might improve their blogs if they "stepped down" from the pedestal a bit more.

    Then I discussed how large scientific collaborations feel threatened by the press, and how blogs have exacerbated this. I started by explaining how this scare of the press was originated by a 1993 article in the NYT.

    Finally I discussed some tips that I picked up along the way in 10 years of blogging.

    THe last part of my lecture discussed how to build analogies in the explanation of difficult scientific concepts. This is material I have already discussed here in the past, so maybe I will just add a link to it later...


    I have a different take on this. I think science blogs are important because scientists will fill a critical/skeptical gap that journalists in science no longer do. Collaborations shouldn't feel threatened by the bloggers because bloggers are the best defense against Higgs bosons leading to time travel and the other nonsense journalists produce.

    When they don't get it wrong, journalists today often tend to want to defend science, which is not their job. This leads to an inability to ask the awkward questions of scientists, because they are fans rather than journalists.

    Nothing makes me cringe more than when I see something like this from a journalist:
    To me it means someone wrote a fan letter rather than an article.

    This looks like it was a really good presentation. Nicely done. (No, I am not ironically writing you a fan letter in a comment, I have seen a lot of these, you know I would dump on it if I thought it was bad).
    Thanks Hank. I agree with your point - there's some de-hyping to do these days, and research blogs should be the ones doing it. And yes, critical thinking should apply to articles about science, even if it is harder to have an opinion on a new resonance than on some new tax.

    Richard King

    Dear Richard,

    thank you for your comments and your perspective. May I ask you a favor ? I am looking for an agent for a book I have written. If you have a suggestion (it is a science popularization book) drop me a line at (you find my first and last name above).