Science journalism

One of the first occasions an article was attributed to a "scientific correspondent" was "A Gale in the Bay of Biscay" by William Crookes which appeared in The Times on January 18, 1871, page 7. Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) and John Tyndall (1820-1893) were scientists who were greatly involved in journalism and Peter Chalmers Mitchell (1864-1945) was Scientific Correspondent for The Times from 1918 to 1935. However it was with James Crowther's appointment as the scientific correspondent of The Manchester Guardian by C. P. Scott in 1928 that science journalism really took shape. Crowther related that Scott had declared that there was no such thing as science journalism, at which point Crowther replied that he intended to invent it. Scott was convinced and then employed him.  

The aim of a science journalist is to render very detailed, specific, and often jargon-laden information produced by scientists into a form that non-scientists can understand and appreciate while still communicating the information accurately. One way science journalism can achieve that is to avoid an information deficit model of communication, which assumes a top-down, one-way direction of communicating information that limits an open dialogue between knowledge holders and the public.  

With budget cuts at major newspapers and other media, there are fewer working science journalists working for traditional print and broadcast media than before. Similarly, there are currently very few journalists in traditional media outlets that write multiple articles on emerging science, such as nanotechnology.  

News coverage on science by traditional media outlets, such as newspapers, magazines, radio, and news broadcasts is being replaced by online sources. In April 2012, the New York Times was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for content published by Politico and The Huffington Post, both online sources, a sign of the platform shift by the media outlet.  

In 2015, John Bohannon produced a deliberately bad study to see how a low-quality open access publisher and the media would pick up their findings. He worked with a film-maker Peter Onneken who was making a film about junk science in the diet industry with fad diets becoming headline news despite terrible study design and almost no evidence. He invented a fake "diet institute" that lacks even a website, and used the pen name, "Johannes Bohannon," and fabricated a press release.  

Science journalists regularly come under criticism for misleading reporting of scientific stories. All three groups of scientists, journalists, and the public often criticize science journalism for bias and inaccuracies. However, with the increasing collaborations online between science journalists there may be potential with removing inaccuracies. The 2010 book Merchants of Doubt by historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway argues that in topics like the global warming controversy, tobacco smoking, acid rain, DDT and ozone depletion, contrarian scientists have sought to "keep the controversy alive" in the public arena by demanding that reporters give false balance to the minority side. Very often, such as with climate change, this leaves the public with the impression that disagreement within the scientific community is much greater than it actually is. Science is based on experimental evidence, testing and not dogma, and disputation is a normal activity.  

Many pharmaceutical marketing representatives have come under fire for offering free meals to doctors in order to promote new drugs. Critics of science journalists have argued that they should disclose whether industry groups have paid for a journalist to travel, or has received free meals or other gifts.  

One area in which science journalists seem to support varying sides of an issue is in risk communication. Science journalists may choose to highlight the amount of risk that studies have uncovered while others focus more on the benefits depending on audience and framing. Science journalism in contemporary risk societies leads to the institutionalisation of mediated scientific public spheres which exclusively discuss science and technology related issues. This also leads to the development of new professional relationship between scientists and journalists, which is mutually beneficial.  


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