No more “science cheerleaders”

The Guardian has a weird portion of their valedictory to their closing down of their science blogging network:

But nevertheless, the end of the science blog network comes at a time when, perhaps more than ever, there is a need for strong, critical, evidence-based science journalism. We find ourselves in a moment in history that is dominated by fake news, cherry-picked data, and a culture in which the stories we tell ourselves – the ones that tap into our own limited experiences and beliefs – trump facts and evidence. In the age of the internet search engine, everyone believes that they have become the expert – all it takes is a quick google, and your first ten hits constitute an apparently unequivocal evidence base. Somehow, we have lost the ability to take a step back, to try and be objective about the information that is presented in front of us, especially if we are faced with something that we already hold a strong opinion about.

This is why good science writing is so important. We don’t need science cheerleaders, telling us how everything is awesome, or showing us cutesy pictures of a cluster of stars with some inane motivational slogan pasted over them. We need journalists who are willing to get their hands stuck into the data, to uncover the real stories that new research tells us, and explain the motives of the scientists that are doing that research. There is good research out there, and there is poor research. There are good scientists, and there are bad ones, and we need honest and expert science writers to do the ground work in separating the signal from the noise. The science blog network here might be coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean that there is no longer a need for excellent science communication….

The author has some experience with how science blogs work, obviously. So I’m genuinely a little confused at these characterizations. A lot of people who have blogged about science do so from a critical perspective. There are some things that science journalists can do that scientists are not good at. Look at the investigation of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. Calls were made, emails were read. This is what journalists do.

But the reason that the controversy blew up in the first place was that scientists on Twitter and blogs were talking about the issue. Is a blog like Neuroskeptic a “science cheerleader”?

To some extent, I think science journalism itself is more liable to be a “science cheerleader.” There are great journalists who have a particular beat and can write with deep knowledge on a topic. But these are exceptions. A lot of science journalism is simply rewriting press releases!