Is The Conversation Now Worth Talking About?

Traffic to The Conversation — that written-by-academics-for-everyone-else site that’s always been a port of last resort for expert opinion content — is way up since the beginning of the pandemic, says Columbia Journalism Review.

“Way up” = 81 million page views in April for all The Conversation sites plus republication by other sites — double that of April 2019.…

Research’s Market Failure: The End of the Beginning

Take a look at these eye-popping stats, from journalist and technologist Frederic Filloux’s recent essay, “COVID-19’s General Blindness is Also a Journalistic Failure”:

  • A search query for the phrases “global pandemic” or “global pandemic preparedness” from 2009-2019 turned up 1,400 results in JAMA, 30 papers in ArXiv and 17,000 results in Google Scholar.

COVID-19 and the Knowledge Resource We’re Not Getting

In a crisis, it’s not enough to disseminate accurate information about what is already known and should be universally understood. (Example: during the COVID-19 epidemic, wash your hands.)

It’s also crucial to disseminate the best evidence-based knowledge about what might come next, along with the level of uncertainty about that knowledge.…

Blood Bags, Parking Tickets, WEIRDos & Big New Stories

I’m fascinated by the recent study in Science that argues the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s prohibitions against incest were crucial in laying the foundation for “individualism, nonconformity, and the inclination to trust and help strangers,” traits the authors associate with the evolution of “WEIRD” societies — western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.…

The Fake News of Discovery Narratives

I haven’t paid much attention to astronomy since the onset of puberty — but of course this piece caught my eye on Friday: BBC science reporter Pallab Ghosh writing for Undark on “Exoplanets, Life, and the Danger of a Single Study,” prompted by the uncritical media coverage (then walked back) of two papers published last month announcing the discovery of water vapor on a exoplanet called K2-18b.…

One Cheer for Sexy Soundbite Scicomm

Ecologist Manu Saunders (who helpfully poked holes in the “insect apocalypse” narrative) now asks: “How damaging is sexy soundbite scicomm?

Wait: first, what is “sexy soundbite scicomm”? As best I can tell from Saunders’ post, it’s comms or reporting that

  1. Hypes Big Data as the master key to all problems;
  2. Lionizes individual researchers; and/or
  3. Promotes single-study findings (like the insect apocalypse or the “we’ve lost 3 billion birds in North America” ones) over what she terms “scientific context.”

For the Birds

Researchers: just passive participants in those terribly misleading media campaigns for their papers?

Michael Schulson writes in Undark about the hyping of that big bird-decline Science magazine study I wrote about last week. In Schulson’s retelling, it was

  • A) Overenthusiastic science communicators +
  • B) A big journal hungry for media that offers very little space to the paper itself (hence, for scientific nuance) that led to
  • C) a sensationalist media storyline to take advantage of a growing public taste for apocalypse.