Unchurning science churnalism

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Ben Goldacre at badscience.net, in his miniblog, links to a blog post at Doctors from the Future, "Times misreports maggot therapy research", with the comment:

I want a site that links media coverage and blogs to the academic article / automated plus crowdsourced, wld change everything.

Me too.

As newspapers cut back, the amount of churnalism in science-related journalism is likely to get worse.

What Ben is suggesting, I guess, would be something like Google News for science, with the addition of links to the underlying scientific publications (if any), and to coverage in blogs and web forums. Also, it would be useful to have the clusters of links be durable — i.e. available across time, unlike Google News — and perhaps linked into a loose network of higher-order relationships.

Coverage by bloggers is not necessarily any better — it may often be worse — but at least you have a shot at finding someone who has read the paper, not just the press release, and who knows the field well enough to understand the paper and to offer an independent interpretation.


  1. Dougal Stanton said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

    It's true, bloggers are often not any better — even ones who would claim to be criticising the mainstream media. I won't name names here but I have written to some prominent bloggers and blogging communities to get them on board, to no avail.

    I'm considering creating a page along the lines of justfuckinggoogleit.com – maybe justfuckingciteit.com?

    "You have been directed here because you appear to be waxing lyrical on the results and shortcomings of a paper you are unable to produce. The person who directed you here doubts you have actually read the paper. You might be a blathering idiot."

  2. Katherine said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    When the original article is either in an academic library inaccessible to the general public, or available online through a relatively costly access service, there won't be enough interested and informed parties in the blogosphere to address any one bit of churnalism in a timely manner. Improving accesst o scholarly articles would be a Damgudethyng (Sellar and Yeatman, 1931).

    It would help if journos weren't, for the most part, softer-degree and innumerate graduates. But A.A. Milne wrote a despairing and gently sarcastic article on journalistic innumeracy back in 1920-mumble, so I don't suppose this is either a new problem or one which will go away quickly.

  3. Nathan Myers said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

    Bloggers with journal access are stepping up. Let me recommend http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/ as an exemplar of the best journalism the blog world has to offer, which is very good indeed.

  4. dr pepper said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

    This same topic just came up on the James Randi site, http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/485-seeing-red.html

  5. Adam said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 3:15 pm

    I may as well plug this, since it does what you're asking for and I've just got it running for testing purposes: http://thesciencebehindit.net. Currently only running for BBC news stories, but more sites to be added in due course.

  6. Adam said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

    I guess it does what Ben Goldacre is asking for – it links a news story to the scientific article that it describes, mostly automatically, and with feedback from users.

  7. acilius said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

    @nathan myers: Thanks for the link!

  8. Bobbie said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

    Suggest you also go to Carl Zimmer's blog, The Loom http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/. Zimmer recently ran a series of comments about George Will's article on global warming and the lack of fact-checking by the Washington Post.

  9. Ray Girvan said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 10:37 pm

    Adam: very nice work. We've bitched about this a lot on Bad Science: the BBC website maintainers' bizarre resistance to proper citation of source papers for science/medical stories (along with its completely pointless ritual links to the front pages of institutions mentioned).

  10. Adam said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:01 am

    Ray Girvan: yes, it drives me mad too. Reverse-engineering it was an attempt to regain calm and let me stop sending them imploring emails.

  11. David Bradley said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 4:48 am

    If somehow we could persuade the mainstream to adopt the researchblogging.org model, then we'd have proper citations based on a paper's DOI and a way of tracking mentions of any particular paper. I have used RB on pertinent posts on all my outlets where it was an editorial option. It not only drives traffic from RB to one's writing, but provides readers with an obvious way to get to the paper about which one is writing.

  12. Arthur Kipps said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 5:39 am

    Please can we differentiate science journalism from medical journalism? The latter is sometimes a subset of the former. But "medical" journalism often has nothing to do with science.

    Think no further than diet rubbish and homoeopathy, a subject that no self respecting science journalist would think about for more than a nanosecond.

    Let us not forget that it is only in recent years that medics have started to use the term "evidence based medicine". It should be no surprise then, that medical journalism itself sometimes fails the test of being evidence based.

  13. bioephemera said,

    March 26, 2009 @ 11:48 am

    "It's true, bloggers are often not any better — even ones who would claim to be criticising the mainstream media. I won't name names here but I have written to some prominent bloggers and blogging communities to get them on board, to no avail."

    Dougal – to "get them on board" with what exactly? Citing sources?

    I don't know which science bloggers you read, but every time I blog about a scientific article (actually, ANY article) at my blog at Scienceblogs, I include links to the original, and if possible, to an accurate non-embargoed press release or editorial on the topic for those readers without access to the pay journals. Citing sources should be a no-brainer for any academic. All the other science bloggers I read do similarly on their blogs. I don't read every science blog, granted, but there are a LOT of good ones to counterbalance the bad ones.

    Just for the record, that doesn't mean I think science blogs will replace science journalism.

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  15. Dougal Stanton said,

    March 27, 2009 @ 6:55 am

    For what it's worth, I have created Just Fucking Cite It, in direct homage to Just Fucking Google It. Recommendations for links to add or better wording is greatly appreciated.

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