Earlier this week, science blogger Emily Willingham took apart - in elegant detail - an opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times which proposed an infectious disease theory of autism (treatable, apparently, by parasitic worms.) You can read the commentary on both pieces that I posted on Tracker here.
She followed that up with a post titled, "Writing About Autism Science? 10 Things" which should be required reading in science journalism classrooms - and in newsrooms as well. Although many of her suggestions are focused on covering autism in particular, the essay also makes some vital points about science journalism in general. The list ranges from interviewing suggestions to cautionary lessons about interpreting risk research and correlation studies.
Let's be smart about this, Willingham urges, and let's be thoughtful, because, "the problem with writing about science... is that science isn't just a story. It's about facts and open questions, and it's almost never defensible to write as though a door has closed, a box has been checked, or a mystery has been completely solved. We owe it to readers to avoid simplification to the point of a sin of omission and to avoid overinterpreting to the point of hyperbole."
Couldn't agree more.
--- Deborah Blum