Nature News Special on Science Journalism

Science Journalism, Nature Special 2009(June 24): “To mark the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists from 30 June-2 July 2009 in London, Nature is shining a spotlight on the profession in changing times. Science journalism faces an uncertain future. But to what extent should scientists help — or care?“.

Some of the articles indexed in this Special appear in the June 25 edition of Nature [2009; 459(7250)]. As is noted in a blog post by Maxine Clarke (Petrona, June 25, 2009), the three Essays and the Books&Arts article are free to read online for 2 weeks from the publication date.

The full text of News Feature by Geoff Brumfiel, Science journalism: Breaking the convention? (pages 1050-1) is also currently publicly accessible [PubMed Citation]. First paragraph:

Blogs and Twitter are opening up meetings to those not actually there. Does that mean too much access to science in the raw, asks Geoff Brumfiel.

Excerpts from the full text:

… During [conference] sessions, many group members posted brief comments sent from their laptops or mobile phones to the popular website Twitter, and automatically cross-posted to FriendFeed. …


For denizens of the blogosphere, these sorts of concerns [that these tools will undermine meetings] seem a little out of date. “I think scientific conferences are about your sharing with the world what you’re doing,” says Francis Ouellette, a researcher at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, who twittered at the Cold Spring Harbor Meeting. “Whether or not the participant you’re sharing with is in the room is somewhat inconsequential.”

Ouellette and many other active bloggers are also members of the ‘open science’ movement, which encourages researchers to make their data public as quickly as possible. [Jean-Claude] Bradley sees this openness as a powerful deterrent to anyone hoping to scoop him at a conference because anything cribbed from his talk is already out on the Internet for everyone else to view. “If someone actually does copy something, I think it would be pretty embarrassing,” he says, “it’s already there, and it’s indexed to Google.”

This article by Geoff Brumfiel has generated a good deal of interest among users of tools such as FriendFeed. See, for example, results of a search of FriendFeed for the keywords: Science journalism: Breaking the convention?

The article has also been commented upon in the blogosphere. See, for example, Nature Takes A Look At Science Journalism, Lisa Green, NextBio Blog, June 30, 2009 [FriendFeed entry]. Excerpt:

… Some scientists worry about being scooped and dislike having the information they are willing to share verbally with conference attendees taken down as notes and made available on blogs or social networks. Other scientists see these digital communication tools as the way of the future and praise the increased efficiency of information sharing.

There has also been discussion of the Nature Science Journalism Special, initiated by Maxine Clarke on Nature Opinion forum. An example is her comment, posted on June 30. Excerpt:

… The open access point does not seem to me relevant as what journalists are interested in seeing is the paper before it is published, i.e. seeing an embargoed copy in advance of publication, not the business model that is used to publish it. …

The next comment is by Björn Brembs, also posted on June 30, 2009, on the same discussion thread, End of the line for science journalism? Excerpts:

Maxine: the problem is not access to that one single paper the press release cites. The problem is access to the papers the one under embargo should have cited but didn’t. ….. Without open access, any journalistic watch-dog must remain toothless – and toothless watch-dogs certainly won’t last long. …


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