Science blogs and science in newspapers

By Jeremy Manier

A confession: as much as I like the idea of, I often find the thing itself unwatchable. Too much chit-chat, not enough substance. One longs for an irritating Chris Matthews-like presence, badgering everyone to stay on topic.

But this is a worthwhile exchange between two very good science bloggers – biology blogger Carl Zimmer and astronomy blogger Phil Plait. The question is whether science blogs might do a better job of covering science than traditional media sources, which are constantly cutting back on many specialties, including science coverage. Plait in particular believes that the rise of blogs powered by real scientists offers something as good or better than the coverage from newspapers or CNN.

The idea has some appeal, and it’s one of the reasons why we started this site. In terms of sheer science knowledge, the researchers and physicians at this university would beat any news desk in the country. If we can unleash more of that expertise, it can benefit medical consumers and the broader conversation about science.

Yet I would hate to see newspapers fade as providers of reliable science coverage. Plait is right that many scientists are excellent writers, and blogs like his can cover some stories more effectively than traditional media (his recent real-time coverage of the “Texas fireball” – probably a meteor – is a great example). But science stories benefit immeasurably from good editors, along with teams of photographers and graphic artists who can pull together complicated information into a package that any reader can digest in a few minutes (see Zimmer’s engrossing Times package from last November on changing ideas about the role of genes). Scientists excel at producing knowledge, but only some can make good sense of their field for a general audience. Newspapers ought to help fill that need.

Of course, fewer and fewer papers or networks have the resources to do that. It’s a problem not just for science journalism, but for science in general.

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