Not Exactly an Interview with Ed Yong
So thanks to the journal reading/interview setting up/marathon transcribing sessions, I guess I just can’t let this project go. Even when I’m trying to ride the bus home from meeting a friend for coffee.
Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science was kind enough to actually read the pile of text I’ve thrown at this site in the last week. He found them interesting (I hope), and posted a tweet. Since my head is so stuck in the project, I had to take the opportunity to ask him a few questions. It’s not so much an interview…. it’s more like a…. twitterview?
Anyway, I’m taking the liberty of turning tweeted short-form words into full words. I hope I’m not breaking any sacred internet taboos.
Colin: Which point do you think they disagree on the most?
E: “News you can use”. Must science tie directly into people’s lives? Or is it interesting in itself? Carl says latter, I agree.
C: The follow up to that then is, how do you engage people who don’t like science/avoid the science section?
E: Combine good stories with good storytelling. Same as for any other area. Perhaps more difficult with science but not impossible. Not Exactly Rocket Science has many readers who don’t read other science blogs or magazines. Not just preaching to converted. Web surprisingly good for baiting others.
C: What about explaining the science of the news of the day, instead of just the new science?
E: Different challenge. Possibly simpler since news angle comes ready-made. Trick is to fit it in without “Here comes the science bit.”
C: Wouldn’t you think that current affairs science might teach more science to more people?
E: In short-term, yes. But in long term, don’t underestimate the power of “this is cool” stories. Ultimately, mix of tactics good.
C: Cool stories are probable better for engaging, but what about explaining science-driven policy issue-of-the-day to people with science-phobia?
And then I guess he probably went to bed, considering it’s about midnight in the UK.
The discussion of current affairs science journalism versus “this is cool” science journalism is I think one that will continue to plague the field for a long time to come. I think it really will boil down to personal preference of the author. Not everyone needs to do it all, but all of it needs to get done.
What I do think is that science journalists need to be aware that they play a significant public role far beyond engaging the public’s interest in science. Science never escapes from the rest of society, even if we’d like to think the products of science can stand alone.
‘Irresponsible’ reporting is not usually due to ignorance or lack of appropriate experience, rather it happens when the original story takes on a broader significance… Journalism will never be a cautious profession as long as its aim is to find and communicate events that are of interest to broad sectors of society. (1)
I’m not really sure why people think it’s not necessary to expand the science to the bigger picture, and why investigative science journalism is looked down upon. What I do know is that someone needs to keep an eye on the scientists. And who else is better positioned than people who understand science and care about it’s ramifications on society.
…it is particularly striking how the role investigative journalism and the PD Notebook documentary played in exposing Hwang went relatively unremarked. This is in spite of the courage of journalists in pursuing such work in the face of everything from death threats to companies pulling their advertising from the channel. Perhaps this relative lack of recognition is because to have celebrated the role of investigative reporting might have high-lighted the limitations of the routine news/science reporting genre and raised questions about the close relations between science journalists and scientists. (2)
(1) Moore, Andrew. “Bad science in the headlines”. EMBO reports. 7. 12 (2006). 1193-1196.
(2) Haran, Joan and Kitzinger, Jenny. “Modest witnessing and managing the boundaries between science and the media: A case study of breakthrough and scandal”. Public Understanding of Science. 18. 6 (2009): 634-652.