[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
At the World Conference of Science Journalists last week in London, outgoing Scientific American Editor in Chief John Rennie talked to writers about the future of what they do, remarks that also pertain to this podcast:
The question then is, how could science writing for the public possibly be better? I think there are a couple of different ideas. One of them is, maybe there should just be less of it. And because I would like to leave this room unlynched, let me amend that to say that at least there should be less of some of it. If our job is, ultimately as we see it, to try to inform the public better about science and technology, I for one think that we could all do with a lot fewer of the “what causes/cures cancer this week” story.
I think that in fact is directly related, that kind of story is really related to a different problem, which is that we have a model of following what defines science news as that 95 percent of the time it is “interesting paper that appears in prestigious journal this week.” That constitutes science news. Except that we’re all smart enough to know that that has absolutely nothing to do with how science works. That has to do with how publishing works. That’s what did they put into press this week.
Science actually doesn’t change when one, new important paper comes out. We all know that. The reality of science is it takes time for science to play itself out. When interesting new results come in, they’re tested and they’re confirmed and people rework them. One paper can be the landmark that starts to affect some of that, but the reality is the actual change in the science follows that often by a considerable amount of time. Sometimes long after we’ve actually written the big headlines about the exciting, dramatic, revolutionary change of whatever has come about because of something.
And I think that’s something that I don’t have a particular prescription on all of this. But I really think this comes down to why it is that we have a responsibility as editors to try to rethink what counts as science news.
—Reported by Steve Mirsky