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New Baby Pictures of the Universe from BICEP2
Faye Flam
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Dozens of stories ran yesterday capturing the excitement behind a discovery that promises to advance our understanding of the origin of the universe. Most stories communicated the buzz, but not all of them succeeded in explaining what the scientists found or why they were so excited by it. 

The news...

Dozens of stories ran yesterday capturing the excitement behind a discovery that promises to advance our understanding of the origin of the universe. Most stories communicated the buzz, but not all of them succeeded in explaining what the scientists found or why they were so excited by it. 

The news required readers to digest not one but several unfamiliar and difficult concepts. First was the observation – gravitational waves – which few readers will have heard of. Then there was the reason for the excitement – the fact that the gravitational waves are a prediction of a theory called inflation, which is, again, not part of the typical talk show fare.

Figuring out how to get the news across in a coherent, logical yet elegant way was like solving the Rubik’s cube. It can be done, but the answer is not obvious and may take some trial and error.  

In...

  When an august and generally circumspect scientific society pulls together a panel of 13 esteemed scholars for a consensus report, one does not tend to expect this sort of punchy, plain-as-nails writing:

Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is...

  When an august and generally circumspect scientific society pulls together a panel of 13 esteemed scholars for a consensus report, one does not tend to expect this sort of punchy, plain-as-nails writing:

Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is happening. Greenhouse gases have supercharged the climate just as steroids supercharged hitting in Major League Baseball. Over the course of a baseball season in the steroid era, we witnessed more and longer homers, even though we cannot attribute any specific homer to steroids.

   That is just about as good as any explanation of specifics versus statistics I have ever read. Maybe the report writers cribbed it from somewhere? Dunno. [Update - Not original. See comments.] But it makes clear why it is inane to ask whether this storm or that drought or those icebergs are due to global warming. It is not as though other current weather events...

Detección de ondas gravitacionales confirma inflación cósmica tras Big Bang. Diferente cobertura en prensa latinoamericana
Pere Estupinya
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(English intro to Spanish lang post) The detection of gravitational waves confirming the cosmic inflation received very diverse coverage in the newspapers of the spanish speaking countries. In Spain, all the national ones covered it in great detail and published supplementary stories explaining...

(English intro to Spanish lang post) The detection of gravitational waves confirming the cosmic inflation received very diverse coverage in the newspapers of the spanish speaking countries. In Spain, all the national ones covered it in great detail and published supplementary stories explaining different details of the announcement. In Latin America, the main newspapers of Argentina, Brazil and Chile published good reporting too, which included opinions of local cosmologists. We found a very nice story in Colombia. Also in Costa Rica. But other than that, in countries like Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, central-american ones… and even in Mexico! (big disappointment), we’ve only read short informations directly copied from wire services. It’s difficult to believe that in a whole country there’s no single science reporter willing to sign such an important scientific achievement.  

El anuncio...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can...

Nate Silver's fivethirtyeight.com relaunched yesterday at its new home--ESPN--vowing to focus its coverage on five areas: politics, economics, life, sports--and science.

The inclusion of science was a surprise to me. And possibly a mistake, unless FiveThirtyEight can quickly improve the quality of the "science" it's publishing. The lead story on the relaunched site's first day--"Finally, a Formula for Decoding Health News"--was abysmal.

Silver's most famous achievement was calling 50 states correctly in the 2012 presidential election. But in a manifesto entitled What the Fox Knows, Silver says some others did nearly as well, and that his election forecasts "didn’t represent the totality, or even the most important part, of our journalism at FiveThirtyEight. We also covered topics ranging from the...

It's now impossible to sort through all the explanations and theories concerning the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but two theories seem to stand out today: One very persuasive, and one nearly ridiculous.

A post on...

It's now impossible to sort through all the explanations and theories concerning the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but two theories seem to stand out today: One very persuasive, and one nearly ridiculous.

A post on Google+ by the pilot Chris Goodfellow suggests what seems to me--and to others--a plausible explanation. The left turn that the plane took put it on a direct course for Palau Langkawi, an airport with a 13,000-foot strip "with an approach over water with no obstacles." The pilot, Goodfellow speculates, "was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make that immediate turn back to the closest safe airport." The loss of communication makes perfect sense in the event of an electrical fire. The first response would be to pull all the circuits and try to isolate the bad one.

And to turn toward safe harbor:

...

In what appears to be a pivotal step in the quest to understand the origin of the universe, scientists announced yesterday that they’d observed a signature of long-sought ripples in space known as gravitational waves, generated less than a trillionth of a second after the big bang. These primordial ripples...

In what appears to be a pivotal step in the quest to understand the origin of the universe, scientists announced yesterday that they’d observed a signature of long-sought ripples in space known as gravitational waves, generated less than a trillionth of a second after the big bang. These primordial ripples showed up indirectly as a pattern in a background of microwave radiation that pervades space. The observations come from a detector called BICEP2 located at the South Pole.

Though a press release distributed last Wednesday didn’t specify the nature of the discovery, it was intriguing enough that many reporters were able to get lots of reporting ready for stories that coincided with the official announcement Monday morning. The Guardian ran a story Friday, which seemed fair enough since the news wasn’t under embargo.

Most ledes focused on the way the observations confirmed a theory called inflation, which posits a period of hyper-expansion...

After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be...

After the Tracker noted on Feb. 24 that the website of the Sacramento Bee was mingling ads with editorial copy, the Bee's editor, Joyce Terhaar, has announced that the paper will now be more careful about identifying press releases.

In an email to me, she wrote:

Hi Paul --
I think the tech work done on the PR Newswire issue should resolve any issue of reader confusion about what exactly the content is. The note to readers at the top of the feed now comes up on each individual story should someone come to it differently.
Regards,
Joyce Terhaar

The note she's referring to is an alert that a story is a press release, not copy produced by the Bee's reporters.

I had written that I thought readers could easily confuse editorial copy and advertising, because the distinctions on...

Last week, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sent out a maddening press announcement, promising to reveal a  major cosmological discovery on March 17th and giving not a clue what it would be.

This morning, a new press release explains that scientists are announcing an important new insight...

Last week, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics sent out a maddening press announcement, promising to reveal a  major cosmological discovery on March 17th and giving not a clue what it would be.

This morning, a new press release explains that scientists are announcing an important new insight into the first moments of the universe’s expansion. With a detector at the South Pole, a group claims to have found  the signature of gravitational waves – a phenomenon that’s long been predicted and sought as evidence for the favored version of the big bang known as inflation.

The Guardian didn’t wait for this promised revelation, running a story last Friday: Gravitational Waves: have US Scientists Heard Echoes of the Big Bang?

The story, by Stuart Clark, captures the excitement in the cosmology community...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up...

The Association of Health Care Journalists has released a long list of 2013 award winners, which include a series on why U.S. healthcare is so expensive, the hazards of assisted living, unsafe drugs, and Obamacare.

Among the roughly three dozen winning stories and series, ProPublica shows up four times, as does the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

AHCJ links to the winners here. You will find a lot of inspiring reading.

-Paul Raeburn

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and...

Tabitha M. Powledge updates us on sugar at On Science Blogs, along with some interesting and possibly important research on HIV and a disturbing bit about the politicization of the government's Office of Research Integrity.

"Refined sugar is one of the worst things found in the Western diet," she writes, quoting Lindsay Kobayashi at the blog Public Health Perspectives. That's a sentiment that will surely bring joy to the sugar-free heart of Gary Taubes. Will action by the World Health organization help reduce sugar in processed foods? Place your bets.

Turn to Powledge for more on HIV and the ORI, but...

Has the "Spaceship of the Imagination" on FOX 's Cosmos been reduced to rubble on the tombstone of Giordano Bruno?

Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, as anyone living in any of the universe's 11 dimensions must know ( or 5 or 6 or whatever), is a reboot of Carl...

Has the "Spaceship of the Imagination" on FOX 's Cosmos been reduced to rubble on the tombstone of Giordano Bruno?

Cosmos: A Spacetime Oddysey, as anyone living in any of the universe's 11 dimensions must know ( or 5 or 6 or whatever), is a reboot of Carl Sagan's legendary 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. Its pedigree is impeccable: The executive producers are Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow, co-writer of the original series, and part of the writing time on this one; and Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the FOX show Family Guy. And the well known science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson takes over Sagan's role as host.

And yet, and yet...

At his blog Out There at Discover magazine, the veteran space writer (and former editor of...

Thomas Edward John Jr., born May 22, 1943, was a major-league pitcher whose 288 victories make him the seventh-winningest left-hander in major league history, says Wikipedia.

He's also known for what's called Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. The surgery was created for...

Thomas Edward John Jr., born May 22, 1943, was a major-league pitcher whose 288 victories make him the seventh-winningest left-hander in major league history, says Wikipedia.

He's also known for what's called Tommy John surgery, or ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction. The surgery was created for him in the middle of the 1974 season when he damaged the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm. It was performed by Dr. Frank Jobe on Sept. 25, 1974. Although it seemed John would never pitch again, he went on to win 164 games--more than half of his total wins.

On Tuesday, a release on Eurekalert reported that major league pitchers "win more games following Tommy John surgery." The release describes a report at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and published in the American Journal of Sports medicine in 2013.

If you quit there,...

The viral site Upworthy, which knows how to attract an audience (last year, Fast Company called it "the fastest growing media site of all time...

The viral site Upworthy, which knows how to attract an audience (last year, Fast Company called it "the fastest growing media site of all time"), has asked its tens of millions of followers what they would like it to focus on in 2014.

Here are the results:

1. Climate change and clean energy.

2. Income inequality and poverty.

3. Human rights.

I guess this shouldn't be surprising, given Upworthy's socially-conscious tilt. Still, it's interesting to see how different this agenda is from anything you might hear out of Washington, for example.

And Upworthy...

Periodistas explican muy bien la compleja asociación entre el gen IRX3, el FTO, y la obesidad
Pere Estupinya
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(English intro to Spanish lang post) Mutations in the FTO gene have the strongest association to obesity in humans, but the mechanism of action remains unknown. Now, researchers from Chicago and Spain publish in Nature that FTO interacts with a distant gene called IRX3, which seems to be the one...

(English intro to Spanish lang post) Mutations in the FTO gene have the strongest association to obesity in humans, but the mechanism of action remains unknown. Now, researchers from Chicago and Spain publish in Nature that FTO interacts with a distant gene called IRX3, which seems to be the one that directly controls differential weight gain. Mice with altered IRX3 function are 30% slimmer than conventional ones. This distanct gene regulation is quite a complex topic to write about, but some journalists in Spain made a great effort to explain it clearly and in detail. In fact it’s the most read story in today’s elpais.com

Buen ejemplo de información científica compleja que ha sido tratada en exquisito detalle, especialmente por Javier Sampedro “Sí, el gen de la gordura existe”...

Illulstration for National Geographic's Black Hole Story
Faye Flam
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Let it be known that last weekend, thanks to National Geographic, a conversation on the nature of black holes took place in the salon where I get my hair cut.

It’s a setting where astrology gets a lot more attention than astronomy, but one of the hair cutters had read the latest National Geo...

Let it be known that last weekend, thanks to National Geographic, a conversation on the nature of black holes took place in the salon where I get my hair cut.

It’s a setting where astrology gets a lot more attention than astronomy, but one of the hair cutters had read the latest National Geo cover story, Black Holes, and he'd been looking forward to my appointment so he could talk about it. He gave me a good summary of the story, demonstrating that he comprehended it. There was real science communication achieved.

The story, by Michael Finkel, was an overview in broad brushstrokes, with no hype, lots of history, lots of background and no quotes. It serves as a lesson to editors who think people don’t care about science unless there’s a breakthrough that happened five minutes ago, a “human interest” angle, or news you can use....

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