I apologize for the lack of a Linkage post last Friday – instead of blogging, your editors were learning about Chicago’s downtown architecture as we floated along the green if not Green Chicago River on one of summer’s final days. But like the reversed flow of that waterway, the science never stops, and last week saw the official launch of a new source for science news: Futurity.
Disclosure alert: the University of Chicago is one of the contributors to Futurity’s content, and our esteemed paleontologist Paul Sereno’s new “punk-size” T-Rex spent much of last week as the site’s featured story. But as both producers and consumers of science writing, we’re genuinely excited about the site, which will aggregate articles from an initial pool of 39 universities in an attempt to the gap left by shrinking science and medicine staffs at newspapers and television stations. With reduced space and time for science stories in the mainstream media, the news offices of these universities have taken it upon themselves to bring their science to the public directly, sometimes by employing refugees from those very same shrinking science staffs.
Yes, that largely means publishing press releases, though it must be said that many press releases are now themselves written and laid out like a news article, with an eye-catching lead, quotes from researchers and outside sources, historical perspective and photo or graphic art. Sites like ScienceDaily and Eurekalert are well-known depositories for these releases, but can be sensory overload for the casual reader with hundreds of new releases posted to the site each day. Futurity looks like it will filter out some of the noise and present the most exciting research in an aesthetically pleasing manner, with the hope that general audience readers, not just other science journalists and news office personnel, will find it entertaining and informative.
The site had a soft launch in the spring and went full-on live last Tuesday, so there’s already been a bit of attention paid to it by sites such as Inside Higher Ed, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Skeptics note, appropriately, that there is a certain preaching-to-the-niche quality, where only people actively seeking out science news will be exposed to science news. But through deals with wider-audience news aggregators like Google and Yahoo!, the hope is that a casual reader will be distracted by interesting science news on their way to sports scores or celebrity gossip, just like they used to do in a newspaper.
Here are a few of the Futurity stories that caught our eye in the website’s opening week:
- Scientists cure color blindness in monkeys with a human gene (University of Washington)
- Using Legos to model nanobiology (Johns Hopkins)
- Thin, overeating friends can inspire unhealthy eating behavior (Duke; with a slick YouTube video that makes us very envious)
- Using trees to generate electricity (University of Washington)
- An “open-source” camera with a brilliant name: Frankencamera (Stanford)