In a tweet, the coordinator for the science blog network of the British newspaper The Guardian announced that after eight years, the blog would be closing down.
We're told over and over again just how important science journalism is, usually by science journalists. Clearly, the public disagrees, and they have disagreed for a very long time. When newspapers began shrinking their news rooms many years ago, science reporters were among the first to go.
There was a brief revival in science journalism with the advent of several science blog networks. But most of them are gone, too, or are shadows of their former selves. What went wrong?
In a word: Ideology.
A Post-Mortem on The Guardian's Science Blog
When I was editor of RealClearScience, The Guardian's science section was a must-read. Over the years, they have given us great pieces by outstanding writers -- Mo Costandi, Alok Jha, Ian Sample, and Dean Burnett come to mind. But that was then.
According to its website, The Guardian's science blog allows its writers "to write on whatever subjects they choose – without editorial interference," supposedly because "they broaden and deepen our coverage of scientific research and debate."
That's nice in theory, but it's not what happens in practice. Instead, when given the freedom to write about whatever they want, science writers usually opt for politics and hot-button cultural issues -- in other words, anything other than science. At some point, a Twitter controversy erupts, self-cannibalization ensues, and the site ultimately collapses. ScienceBlogs and Scientific American Blogs were the two highest profile examples.
The Guardian went down the same, well-beaten path. Though it is difficult to distinguish between what constitutes newspaper coverage vs. blog coverage, here are just a few examples of how The Guardian completely lost its way:
(1) Brook Borel wrote a hit piece against plant biologist and science communicator Kevin Folta for Buzzfeed, then published a defense in The Guardian of that dumpster fire of an article. Her justification was that science journalists needed to look "beyond data" to "where [scientists'] money is coming from" and "power structures." In other words, Ms. Borel believes that scientific truth isn't determined by data but by money and politics. That's postmodernist dreck.
(2) The Guardian opened its doors to bona fide activists. Unbelievably, they published an article by Carey Gillam, a well-known anti-biotech activist who works for U.S. Right to Know, a group funded almost exclusively by the organic food industry to oppose GMOs. (Strangely, The Guardian's belief that money and power structures are important didn't apply here.) Setting that hypocrisy aside, the article was full of easily disprovable claims about glyphosate, only if an editor had bothered to do a light fact-check of her piece. (Oh yeah, no "editorial interference.")
(3) The Guardian furthermore decided to publish clickbait, like the article that ludicrously claimed that an extra glass of wine will shorten your life by 30 minutes. No, it will not.
Ideologically driven science reportage. Anti-science activism. Clickbait. That's a recipe for disaster, as The Guardian's science bloggers have now discovered.
The only question that remains is, "Have science bloggers finally learned the lesson?"