Telling Science Stories at the World Science Festival

I’ve been going through some career re-evaluation lately — Should I keep my side job? Do I want to work for a radio show instead of freelancing? Where could I do more podcasting? Should I diversify and do more work in print? — and the ensuing confusion has crippled my productivity radio-wise. It hasn’t been a total loss, as my search for inspiration has lead me to get more involved in the New York science community this last month, something I realized I’d been missing out on.

Yesterday I attended the World Science Festival session “Telling Science Stories in Print and On the Web.” The panel included The Guardian and Columbia University’s Emily Bell, author and PLoS blogger Seth Mnookin, journalist and Dot Earth creator Andrew Revkin, journalist/author/blogger Carl Zimmer, and Scientific American blog editor and prolific web presence Bora Zivkovic.

Some talking points:

  • Revkin’s seeing a shift in the perception of peer-reviewed literature. People are becoming more willing to question scientific articles, and he predicts a move towards a more open peer review process.
  • Mnookin says science coverage in the mainstream press is now better monitored (by science journalists, the public, and other scientists) than it used to be. For example, the kind of perpetuation of poor research that brought on the anti-vaccine movement is less likely to happen in the current science journalism climate.
  • Zimmer brought up the reticence of some scientists to join the conversation that blogging encourages. He found the NASA researchers behind the arsenic life paper unwilling to comment on their finding outside of peer-reviewed literature. They didn’t want to have a conversation, he said, and are getting left out of a discussion that’s blowing up right now.
  • Revkin acknowledges that putting science online diminishes the proprietary nature of researchers’ findings. But to him the benefits of collaboration outweigh that loss.
  • Bell says she’s seeing a similar trend in science journalism, where exclusivity is less important to a reporter’s story. She’s seeing more emphasis on owning your viewpoint, instead of your scoop.
  • Mnookin lamented the high pricetag for access to most peer reviewed articles online, which makes free made-up pseudo-science more appealing to general audiences.

Overall I felt encouraged by the discussion, as it brought up the increase in publishing options for science journalists these days. But the discussion still didn’t really answer the dilemma of science journalism preaching to the converted. Mnookin pointed out that online links might bring people not usually interested in science to science websites, but I still think the general audience for internet science is the people who would have read the science section of print media. We need to keep thinking of strategies to turn non-science-fans onto science. Which brings me to this video.