Project PM Launches Science Journalism Improvement Program
Scientists and media critics tend to agree that there has been a noticeable decline in the quality and accuracy of science journalism over the last decade or two, thereby creating an environment in which pseudo-scientific agendas such as intelligent design and the debunked autism-vaccine link can prosper with dire results for the American public. Although the causes of this are many and sometimes obscure, the solution may be quite simple. Today, I announced in my monthly column for Skeptical Inquirer the launch of a new effort, the Science Journalism Improvement Program, which has been planned and carried out under the aegis of my distributed think-tank Project PM. The whole article may be found at this link, while a basic rundown is pasted below.
Clearly it is not the science but rather the journalism that constitutes the limiting factor in the quality of science journalism. If one examines a copy of Time from the ’60s and compares it to the most recent edition, the first thing one will notice is a steep decline in thickness; upon flipping through the pages of both issues, one will notice that the earlier specimen is not only thicker but includes far more words per page than its descendant. Upon actually reading the articles on science, one will have trouble making any comparison at all because the latest Time does not have any articles on science (although it does have an article on Burger King’s new Pizza Burger, which begins with the sentence, “I just ate a pizza made out of hamburgers.”)…
If we seek to improve the state of science journalism, we have the best chance of doing so by influencing the writer rather than those who run the outlet; the latter will not be convinced to abandon the pursuit of readership and profits in service to mere science, whereas even the most mercenary of freelancers will happily accept any assistance that makes his work easier and more profitable while also making it better. More to the point, there are a great number of writers who are quite mindful of making a positive impact on public understanding who would consider any help in doing so to be similarly attractive.
As such, I’d like to announce the launch of the Science Journalism Improvement Program, the first of several efforts being undertaken by the distributed think tank Project PM since its founding earlier this year. The procedure by which we’ll be operating, which I’ll describe below, is the result of input by a group of participants, including Todd Essig, PhD, a training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute and a columnist for Psychology Today, who founded an online network for mental health professionals in 1992, which itself gave rise to the first post-graduate psychoanalytic online continuing education course as well as an annual conference on the subject; and Mano Singham, director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education at Case Western Reserve and adjunct professor of physics, who is the author of several books on evolution and philosophy of science, in addition to being a fellow of the American Physical Society and an active blogger.
The process by which this program operates centers around the pairing of freelance writers with scientists and science-based practitioners (such as healthcare professionals or engineers) who will assist their partners by identifying potential story ideas, providing assistance with research, and putting writers in touch with other qualified sources for background information and quotations. Participating scientists can expect several benefits: more media attention given to one’s own area of expertise; publicity for themselves, their institutions, and their sponsors; and even byline credit if the level of contribution merits such recognition.
Those with an interest in working with Project PM on this or other initiatives may contact me at email@example.com. A couple of our most talented and active participants are regular readers of LGF, incidentally.