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!

ScienceBlogs is shutting down at the end of the month

The people, whoever they are, at ScienceBlogs have announced that they’ll be shutting down at the end of the month. I actually should have all my archives, so there’s no worry on that end for me.

The first few years for Seed were pretty flush for a small operation. There were a couple of blogger meet-ups in New York City (and a fair number of ad hoc meet-ups in the San Francisco Bay area, as several of us lived there and many people traveled there). But the Great Recession hit media hard, and that included Seed. Some attrition of bloggers started to occur in 2008 and 2010, and then presumably in an attempt to get more revenue they started a Pepsi sponsored blog, and that caused a further set of defections.

But there are some great blogs still there. Respectful Insolence and Uncertain Principles I’ve followed on and off since the beginning. The latter blog has had some continuity as a science blog since the spring of 2003, so along with Gene Expression it’s been around for 15 years or so.

Here is an article in The New York Times from January 20th of 2006, Science Blogs as a Vehicle for Upscale Ads. I remember where I was then, chilling out in Prospect Heights at my friend’s apartment in New York City. Honestly, a nearly 12-year run is not that bad. Some great journalists started at or grew their careers at ScienceBlogs.

ScienceBlogs’ wiping away of the whole site illustrates the major problem with relying on someone else’s platform to gain scale and synergy. It might be a short-term strategy. Unfortunately, I think the areas of science twitter I’m familiar with are already in steep decline from the vibrant and spirited by collegial conversations dominant between 2010-2015. It’s not quite as far gone as ScienceBlogs’ neglect.