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    NSF Stopping Death Of Science Content?
    By Alex "Sandy" Antunes | June 10th 2011 09:29 AM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Did science in newspapers die?  By 2009, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal ended their Science sections, leaving just the New York Times as a major paper with a dedicated science section.  CNN cut their entire science and tech team.

    Dana Topousis of the NSF discussed the role of the National Science Foundation in the new media landscape at a DCSWA workshop in 2009.  She noted that the NSF.gov's "Discoveries" gets the most traffic of the NSF site.  NSF sees its role as protecting scientist's free speech.  One venture they launched is Science360.gov, as a 1-stop shop for any science news.

    More notably, they stepped up when one print publication-- US News&World Report-- eliminated their science section.  The NSF provided and funded the US News&World Report online section section to ensure science reporting remained viable.  By providing continuity to the science section, they were able to let the publication continue producing Science until US News&World Report could rehire their own science staff.

     NSF logo
    Alas, this column is not from the NSF, but we include this image to show how they tag their content.

    NSF also partnered with Live Science including 'behind the scenes', image of the week, and the 10-question "Science Lives", and partnered with Discover magazine.  Their older FAQ states "when we provide editorial content to media, as with our partnerships with LiveScience.com and U.S. News and World Report, the content is clearly labelled as such."

    The NSF has also partnered with NBC News and with Discover magazine to present town hall forums ( http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsletter/jan_11/index.jsp) and funded panels and features for Discover magazine on science topics (http://www.sciencecheerleader.com/tag/nsf/).  This is within its role as a grant-distributing entity, and it's heartening they devote their resources towards panels, aggregation and dissemination rather than towards commissioning a specific stance.

    Myself, I see the NSF's role as providing continuity and stability in the media landscape with a sort of "the Dude abides" stance.

    Alex
    Tuesdays at The Satellite Diaries and Friday at The Daytime Astronomer (twitter @skyday)

    Comments

    Hank
    Should taxpayers be subsidizing private corporations to carry science content?   They are already under fire for not funding enough 'transformative' science, as is their mandate.  

    There was also a huge blowup at Scienceblogs.com over Pepsi sponsoring a column so it seems a little hypocritical if scientists and the audience don't see a parallel in the NSF funding news about the NSF.
      
    I am also not sure how the NSF can claim it is a scientist freedom of speech issue, since those sites are just carrying NSF press releases.     They have an account in  our video section here but we take no money from them.  Obviously if the science community is okay with paid sponsors putting up news content, the NSF is welcome to send us as much money as they want.    Our science reach is far greater than NBC.
    Stellare
    You cannot compare Pepsi and NSF, Hank. Pepsi is a corporation who's mission is to make money. NSF is a governmental body that have no 'personal' interest (no gain) that motivate their actions.

    As far as I know NSF fund (best quality) science. Only recently did they even start to consider the societal impact of the science they funded. The criteria was solely scientific quality.

    So I do not see NSF as an organization that will be biased. No more biased than any of the other media (privately funded in the US) organizations that is.

    It is a public responsibility to disseminate scientific results. At least basic science.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    You're engaging in nuance.   Pepsi, a for-profit company, funded a for-profit science site to publish articles it likes and the NSF does the same thing - but is not taxpayer funded.   One for-profit science publisher getting an advantage over others using taxpayer money is wrong under US law.
    Stellare
    I wasn't discussing the Pepsi case, but I agree that in principle there was nothing wrong with having Pepsi sponsoring the for-profit scienceblogs. Those who left for that reason got it wrong in my opinion too.

    One for-profit science publisher getting an advantage over others using taxpayer money is wrong under US law.

    Yes, I agree with that actually. You are right. Also outside the US. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Stellare
    I think it is alarming that as we get more and more advanced, using nano-tech for instance, in science and technology, and our daily lives depend on rather complicated scientific knowledge, we are getting less educated on those fundamental discoveries and information.

    We've always envied those who live in countries that have proper sections and lots of scientific information in the big news outlets like major newspapers and TV stations. Here in Norway we are starved with that kind of news. We basically have to go to BBC or New York Times to have the latest.

    Now, we also have this channel, Science2.0, of course, but that is for us who are already out of the closet and openly admit we are interested in science. :-)

    The general public is more interested than they know, if they only get the story presented in the right way.

    I think it lies within the responsibilities of organizations like NSF to facilitate science outreach to a broader audience.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    Most scientists here have made fun of LiveScience.   When we did our marketing agreement with them in 2008, one of the researchers even wrote me and asked if he had to stop making fun of them.    It's 400 words and designed to be read by 12-year-olds.    Should American taxpayers be subsidizing it?   Not really.   My point about why there was outrage when a corporation subsidized its own articles but not when the NSF does it is valid.  It seems hypocritical.

    There is a market for science - 65 million just in the US - which means the government does not have to subsidize it.    Yes, CNN no longer carries it but so what?   CNN readers clearly had no interest or were getting it from other sources.  For the NSF to subsidize them or anyone else in hopes of creating an unfair advantage which CNN (or Discover or LiveScience or NPR) uses against the companies successfully doing science is unfair.

    And that is what it comes down to - the NSF is not giving money to groups successfully doing science, it is rewarding failure.  It would be like if they only funded science studies that were null results.

    Either way, their own mission statement says "transformative science" not science outreach.   They seem to be losing their minds over there.   Luckily, DoE, DoD, NIH, etc. all actually fund the science they are supposed to fund.

    Stellare
    I agree that NSF probably should not subsidize a for-profit organization.

    The way this outreach has been organized in Norway, is the establishment of a website called Forskning.no. where the Norwegian Research Council (equivalent to NSF here) and some other public organizations fund a major part, the rest the different members, such as universities and research institutions, pay a membership fee. This is just an outlet for some of the science outreach that the universities are obliged to do according to Norwegian law and regulations (as a service for our tax money).

    It has been a great success as other media is using this site as a source when they are occasionally making science stuff, and the general public know they can go directly to the forskning.no and get high quality information. It is a mix of publicly controlled (the members themselves) and editorial articles there (thus like a news paper ensuring a journalistic quality of the writings).

    My only concern, is that also forskning.no (as this site) is already screening the public and reaching only those who have a certain interest in science in the first place.

    I guess NSF had had to establish something similar in order to not give an advantage to certain companies then.

    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    They should pay all or no one.  If you look on our video site, NSF has an account and posts things.  We don't charge them - nor would we charge Pepsi, the science just has to be real and not public relations pieces.

    The NSF has their own site and practically every study published that has any NSF funding is posted there and written by NSF employees.    The idea that internally they think they need to subsidize failing science media companies when they could be a media site in their own right tells a lot about what is wrong with the NSF in the last two years.
    there goes democracy.

    Dear Hank and Bente - Both of you make reasonable arguments, but I think the two sides arise from the usual clash between 'liberal' and 'conservative' perspectives. The fact is, this is one of those gray areas. What if NSF support for a commercial news outlet is a bargain in terms of value for money? US News and World Report reaches hundreds of thousands of readers, so that the expenditure of a relatively small amount of taxpayers' money by NSF has more educational value than running their own website that attracts a much smaller readership. I also note that NSF and NIH both have grants for Small Business Innovative Research, which are dedicated to supporting start up companies. Is this a waste of taxpayers' money? Another example of grayness is the journal Nature, a totally commercial operation, yet kept afloat by millions of taxpayer dollars that support the research of the scientists who publish there.

    Hank
    What if NSF support for a commercial news outlet is a bargain in terms of value for money?
    It shouldn't matter.  If you replace news outlet with clothes or music CDs or organic food, the government shouldn't be subsidizing that sector with taxpayer money.   If money is used to subsidize Wal-Mart or Discover that means either less is available for research or our taxes go up.

    The NSF already has a fully staffed news division and a website - so by subsidizing private companies to carry their articles also, we are paying for the same information twice.   That's government efficiency.  :)
    If for profit organisations are dropping science reporting it is because they do not see any evidence people are reading those articles. So where is the logic that if the NSF steps in to provide funding people will suddenly start reading science articles again? Despairingly, with a great sense of frustration, I am bewildered by the fact that the most educated generations ever can create the types of minds as seen on Jersey Shores. That reality, combined with the increasing worry of deteriorating academic performance and lowering standards of tertiary education, leads me to think that if the post modernists got one thing right it was their theme of society being "dumbed down".

    Science is difficult. If people are turning away from science reporting it may be that they have been spoon fed information too much, taught to get the answers right and damn the understanding. If science reporting is declining in popularity it may have more to do with the cultural milieu than science reporting itself. I don't think science reporting is parlous, I suspect the problem has more to do with the science reporting having to compete with so many easy information options.

    Contrary to the views of some here I think LiveScience at least attempts to get the young interested in science.

    Hank
    Science understanding is way up - literacy in adults has tripled since 1988.   That doesn't mean they get it from CNN.   I agree that supporting failed business models makes no sense and the NSF should be funding transformative research, since that is its mandate, not attempting to turn people who read people here (or elsewhere) into customers for large media companies where they have friends.