Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Posts Tagged ‘science writing

Science Policy Around the Web – September 28, 2012

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photo credit: Sister72 via photopin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Football’s Problem With Danger and Uncomfortable Questions – George F. Will and Jason Reid raise interesting issues at the intersection of culture and science in The Washington Post.  What should be done when the entertainment we want to see risks the health (and lives) of the entertainers?  These two opinion pieces discuss the ethical ramifications of the accumulating evidence that football players’ neurological health is being degraded by the violence of the game they play.

Well-funded Investigators Should Receive Extra Scrutiny – Jeremy Berg suggests in a comment in Nature that even the new NIH rules raising the bar for funding researchers already receiving >$1 million in grant money from the NIH aren’t stringent enough.  His suggestions?  Close loopholes that would allow exceptions and start the scrutiny at below $1M.  Also, “…special consideration should be given to investigators with strong proposals who have few or no other sources of funding, such as those at the beginning of their careers or established, productive investigators. Funding these applicants would probably have a bigger impact — by helping to develop a new lab or keeping an effective one functioning — rather than providing incremental support to an investigator who already has substantial other support.”  As the NIH struggles to divvy up the increasingly shrinking pie, discussions like this are becoming more common in the world of science funding.

Writing About Autism Science?  10 Things – Emily Willingham gives 10 very thoughtful suggestions for science writers discussing autism.  It’s worth a read for anyone else, though, to get an idea of how writing in the media about particular diseases affects people with those diseases.  Also, there are some great tips on what NOT to say when discussing scientific studies in the media (protip:  Correlation does not equal causation!)

Have an interesting science policy link?  Share it in the comments!


Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – May 3, 2012

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photo credit: Frederic Poirot via photo pin cc

By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

Data Diving – What happens when tens of thousands of pages of clinical trials are condensed into <10 page publications?  Inevitably, information gets left out.  Kerry Grens suggests in The Scientist that such unpublished data is a treasure trove of scientific knowledge that needs to be more readily available.

Analytical Trend Troubles Scientists – Observational studies (studies where there is no investigator intervention, simply observation of what happens naturally) are on the rise, due to their being much cheaper to conduct than controlled experimental studies.  However, these studies seem to be particularly prone to faulty study design and statistical biases that make them difficult to interpret or reproduce.  (by Gautam Naik via the Wall Street Journal) – An excellent resource where scientists and health professionals do the factchecking on health news reporting.  They check the reviewed articles for accuracy, bias, and a slew of other factors judging its usefulness to health consumers.

Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 3, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Science Policy Around the Web – February 15, 2012

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By: Rebecca Cerio

Our weekly linkpost, bringing you interesting and informative links on science policy issues buzzing about the internet.

When Scientists Choose Motherhood – As suggested in one of our recent posts, the next big challenge for gender equality in STEM careers may not be at the interview or tenure committee table, but in the conflicts between a successful academic career and raising a family. (by Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci in American Scientist).

White House Touts NSF’s New Family-Friendly Policies – An older article on some of the concrete measures being taken to combat the above issues by the NSF, such as 1-year grant delays, reduced travel requirements, and supplemental awards to keep labs running during family leave. (by Jeffrey Mervis via ScienceInsider)

Their So-Called Journalism – A freelance science journalist describes her frustrating exploits trying to write good science for popular women’s magazines.  (by Hillary Rosner via Tooth and Claw on the PLoS Blogs network)


Have an interesting science policy link to share?  Let us know in the comments!

Written by sciencepolicyforall

February 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm

Science in the Media: To Fact Check, or Not to Fact Check?

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Photo by tecknare, used with permission

By: Rebecca Cerio

Science policy demands, at its very core, communication of scientific information.  Making sure that science is distributed to and understood by the people who need it, whether they be politicians or the public at large, is the interface where science policy meets science journalism.

Communicating science to the public can often be a challenge.  Science is a highly specialized, highly technical field, and science journalists often summarize the science involved in new findings for brevity, clarity, and that elusive “interestingness”.  However, there are always examples of editing gone too far:  experimental designs mangled, quotes cherry picked out of context, conclusions and significance misrepresented.  It’s easy for scientists to roll their eyes, shake their heads, and blame it on journalists who don’t understand science.

However, a recent discussion started by David Kroll on PLoS Blogs has pointed out that sometimes it’s the scientists who don’t understand journalism.

Two camps have emerged on this topic, as seen in the text and comments on Kroll’s original post and also exemplified in this commentary by Ananyo Bhattacharya, the chief online editor of Nature.

In one camp are the scientists.  Scientists’ main experiences have often been with scientific publishing, where everything is peer reviewed, properly qualified, and fact-checked to death.  Inaccurate media articles about science often strike them as embarrassing and/or frustrating.  After all, obviously the journalist didn’t understand the science and didn’t care enough about their article to fact-check it with the scientist they were interviewing.  This is often seen as a failing of the journalist and of the editor that let the article be published.

On the other side are the journalists, who argue from a completely different place.  In the comments on the Kroll post, George Johnson laid bare the crux of their argument:

The ethics that have been instilled in me over many years is that it is forbidden to show unpublished copy to a source and that getting approval for the speaker’s quotations is a violation of the professional standards of journalism.  [emphasis added]

The source has already given blanket approval to use anything she might say when she agreed to go on the record.  Nothing more is needed.  Also, journalists are there to take facts and turn them into a story for their audience.  They are under no obligation to write something that the source likes.  In fact, taking a finding and reporting it in a way that the scientist might disapprove of (for instance, quoting a vaccinologist in an anti-vaccine piece) is their right.  It’s what freedom of the press is all about.  Why should scientists get the right to fact-check (and possibly influence) stories when, say, politicians do not?  If journalists allowed their sources to influence their writing, that would inject the source’s bias into the piece.

Science journalist and popular blogger Ed Yong argued both sides of the issue in his reply to Kroll about fact-checking in science journalism,

The downside of doing this is that some people start asking for wholesale changes, tonal changes, or start going back on what they actually said (and meant).

The upside, and I think this is significant, is that while journalists can fact-check specific things, we don’t always know the ways in which we can screw up. Unknown unknowns, and all that. An innocuous choice of word can make a sentence completely wrong and it can take an expert’s eye to spot that. 

In a very real way, this entire debate is a value judgment between scientific freedom and journalistic freedom.  Scientists want the freedom to have their work reported accurately, while journalists want the freedom to interpret the facts and present a story without interference.  Everyone can agree that there is a balance to be struck.  Finding this balance will minimize the possibility for inaccurate and biased reporting and raise the bar for science writing.

Practical suggestions from all sides for finding this balance include going to an independent scientific source for fact-checking, allowing a source to fact-check only relevant portions of the copy, or simply being alert for and resistant to attempts to alter the article’s tone or conclusions in the source’s suggestions.  According to John Rennie‘s comment on Kroll’s post, the decision ultimately lies with the journalist.  His opinion?

Sources can ask for any changes they like. I’ll only make ones that I think are right for the story. If writers aren’t prepared to stare down their sources over that principle, they shouldn’t be sending sources anything.

Written by sciencepolicyforall

September 29, 2011 at 11:37 pm