One of the pretty boys of science writing has fallen. Jonah Lehrer has finally been called out for distorting science. Many more are going to fall. Or wait. No, wait, what? Oh – I see – he misquoted some singer-song writer dude! Ohhhh – how tragic! And without misquoting Bob Marley or whoever that was (please correct me in the comments because I really really care so much), he would be still one of those celebrated “science writers” selling better than porn these days.
Jonah Lehrer - dared falsely quoting Britney Spears instead of pulling Einstein out of context. Some deeds go too far even in science writing.
I hardly read science sites anymore and none of the celebrated writers are in my bookmarks. I find more interesting and actually novel science related content on erowid or Vice, like this recent article about the ASMR phenomenon. Even liveleak.com surprises me more often with intriguing science than the pseudo-progressives on NatGeo's scienceblogs. Celebrated science guys’ output directed at the public is usually so annoying that I can only write about how terrible it is.
Reactions then are always the same: I am told to stop touching these great people that give so much to secularism and the public understanding of science. How I dare criticize the priests who sold so many books and are revered by so many other saints who are linked to and praised in every science venue?
Just last week, I removed Ethan Siegel from my blogrol for starting to distort science too much. The mechanism is always the same: A person starts out reasonable enough and I have high hopes, but then success sets in. Success is crack. Soon, instead of slowing down in the face of increased responsibility, they crave to come up with another crowd pleaser every few days. And audiences, so called science-literate ones no less, what this very site here calls the “most intelligent readers on the net”, fall for it hook, line and sinker.
I don't want to discuss the bottom feeders who gather links (RCS anyone) or the press release reguritaters with mediocre, at times nameless staff writers. Many successful science sites where there are individuals with quite some background in real scientific reseach, like for example the German scienceblogs.de, are held hostage by the most idiotic writers (and their readers of course). Newest articles: Naïve scientism from Florian. Popular articles: Science cheerleading from Florian. Physics, Society, Space Science, Books Subsection, Whatever Section: Boring idiocy from Florian. Recent Comments: Simpletons admiring Florian. And so, another science site has become unreadable for many people who could have otherwise discovered their love for true science.
Science2.0 is on the way downward to success. Some of its silliness, like (self-censored because of also self-censored) luckily keeps it from being successful with the usual crowd. The turning sour of the more successful writers is accompanied by a site’s semi-success attracting yet more semi-celebrities to spam with their nonsense. Increasingly, the site’s writers are too successful to give a damn and engage in meaningful conversation with the “most intelligent readers on the net”. The comment sections become useless. Once a threshold is passed, the rest is removed/assimilated surprisingly fast, resistance is futile. What site owner can resist the temptation of success?
More enlightened people get only one message from successful science writing, be it science sites or journals or shows: Science is now a cool, sexy substitute religion not to be trusted. Those who exploit this market niche know how to feed the pride of ignorance. Careers and fame can be had, books can be sold, the lucrative conference circuit booms with so called “skeptics” being quite indistinguishable from spiritual healers pushing their aura enhancing seminars. While healers stay with the same message, science writers like Lehrer get punished for reusing even their own stuff and must pretend writing something novel every time. But science is difficult! As Bob Dylan said:
“No human can write like a machine gun shoots without writing bullshit! Nobody can write book after book without writing crap!” Bob Dylan to Snoop Dog/Lion/Ringworm, private conversations in my little brown hole on my lower back side
Put a cap on all science writing! There should be a limit to how much scientists can force their names on papers through power games. Not even Einstein crossed with Jesus makes a scientific discovery every few days. (But you still contributed vitally? So did the janitor. Your name should mean that you stand fully behind it and are responsible, spineless "scientists"!) Somebody writes a book every other year? Don’t read any of them – all hot air and hype. Science bloggers who write more than a few articles each month: You are what’s wrong! No human can understand so much so fast to a level where profound criticism could possibly emerge. If you cannot know whether something is questionable, you cannot ethically hype it. This means that you are naïve cheerleaders for a new religion, proselytizing the dumb masses to which you still belong, at least passively suppressing all valid criticism through the sheer smothering volume of your pathetic scribbles.