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Deborah Blum's Tracker

Early last year, I wrote a piece here at Tracker called "The Science Reporting Chill" in Canada, focused on dismay by science journalists in that country over government muzzling of scientists.  And this was no...

Early last year, I wrote a piece here at Tracker called "The Science Reporting Chill" in Canada, focused on dismay by science journalists in that country over government muzzling of scientists.  And this was no lightweight muzzling: information about global climate change was so sharply restricted by the government that one news analysis found stories on the subject had dwindled by some 80 percent.

As Charlie Petit noted here this May, since that time the government has only tightened that grip on information. So much so that country's high-profile magazine, McLean's, described the policies as Orwellian.  And I'll refer you to a post written by Petit, also in May, about a Canadian plan to only invest in applied research titled...

The New England based science writer David Dobbs has long been a pioneer in exploring  the ways that scientists' ideas about genetics have changed, grown, become more complex - and more interesting. In particular, he's illuminated the evolving way that researchers view genes and their ability to both...

The New England based science writer David Dobbs has long been a pioneer in exploring  the ways that scientists' ideas about genetics have changed, grown, become more complex - and more interesting. In particular, he's illuminated the evolving way that researchers view genes and their ability to both shape us and be shaped by the way our own lives unfold. 

It's an exploration that ranges from his 2009 story in The Atlantic, The Science of Our Success, (which led to a book contract) to his National Geographic piece, Restless Genes,  published earlier this year, which looks at the ways that time, culture, and genes may have helped create some of the world's great explorers. You can find these and other examples archived...

In late July -  the New York Times science writer Amy Harmon wrote a story about a Florida citrus grower's race to save his crops - and many others - from a...

In late July -  the New York Times science writer Amy Harmon wrote a story about a Florida citrus grower's race to save his crops - and many others - from a devastating blight by using the genetic modification to create a more resistant orange. The story drew so much interest, attention, and controversy that Harmon is still responding to queries and arguments even today:

 

 . Still not clear how...
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On Monday, two science communicators published a twitpoll titled "Who is the best living science communicator?"

The two communicators, science writer Eric Berger of The Houston Chronicle, and Jeffrey Toney, also spread the word elsewhere. Berger posted it on...

On Monday, two science communicators published a twitpoll titled "Who is the best living science communicator?"

The two communicators, science writer Eric Berger of The Houston Chronicle, and Jeffrey Toney, also spread the word elsewhere. Berger posted it on his Sci Guy blog at the Chronicle site.  And Toney, provost of Kean University and a popular science writer himself, gave it a heads up at Dean's Corner at Scienceblogs. 

As they write:

It’s been nearly two decades since Carl Sagan, the great science communicator, died.

Since that time ...

In 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed upwards of 150,000 people, the United Nations began assembling a peacekeeper force to help maintain order in the shattered country. The UN staffers were housed in a basic camp along one of the country's main rivers, the Arbonite. Very basic,...

In 2010, after the devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed upwards of 150,000 people, the United Nations began assembling a peacekeeper force to help maintain order in the shattered country. The UN staffers were housed in a basic camp along one of the country's main rivers, the Arbonite. Very basic, apparently, because the primitive sanitation there allowed human waste to spill directly into the water.

That year, adding to the earthquake's miseries, a lethal cholera epidemic began to spread through the country. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the disease was first reported in October 2010 and by May of this year had sickened more than 650,000 people and killed more than 8,000.  A United Nations investigation, published last year, raised a possibility that the agency's camp was a source but also carefully avoided assigning any blame or particular responsibility.

...

Earlier this week, the Korean website Imgur posted photos of mutant vegetables which were supposedly popping up in farms around Japan's earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor due to radiation leaks. I've posted one of the photos here and you can find the...

Earlier this week, the Korean website Imgur posted photos of mutant vegetables which were supposedly popping up in farms around Japan's earthquake-damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor due to radiation leaks. I've posted one of the photos here and you can find the whole gallery at the Xinhua news site from China.

I first saw the photos posted at Grist and I spent some time trying to decide if I was really looking at a mutation or a tomato sculpture made with toothpicks. Grist reporter Holly Richmond, though, seemed to have no such doubts and the website's initial story began with this lead:

Maaaybe it’s not a good idea to set up your vegetable garden outside a nuclear power plant. Certainly it’s not a good idea to set it up outside the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which melted down in 2011 in the wake of an earthquake and tsunami. At least that’s the...

"Journalism is experiencing a big change everywhere," writes Satu Lipponen, president of the World Conference of Science Journalists 2013. "The transformation will be at the very heart of the discussions at the 8th World Conference. Is the changing media landscape a threat or an opportunity?"...

"Journalism is experiencing a big change everywhere," writes Satu Lipponen, president of the World Conference of Science Journalists 2013. "The transformation will be at the very heart of the discussions at the 8th World Conference. Is the changing media landscape a threat or an opportunity?"

Lipponen, who is also president of the Finnish Association of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ) posed that question in the program for this year's World Conference of Science Journalists, held from June 24-28 in Helsinki. More than 800 science journalists from more than 40 countries attended the meeting and - as her question would predict - the resulting discussion was wide-ranging and engaged.

The main plenaries, for instance, took up topics that included journalistic ethics, the rising power of blog networks (represented by Betsy Mason from Wired, Alok Jha from The Guardian, Ed Yong from National Geographic Phenomena, and Bora Zivkovic from...

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Deborah Blum
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Last week, I wrote here about a move by the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature to shut down an investigative reporting center which works with the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin. As I noted I often teach in...

Last week, I wrote here about a move by the GOP-dominated Wisconsin legislature to shut down an investigative reporting center which works with the journalism school at the University of Wisconsin. As I noted I often teach in collaboration with this center because I believe that investigative reporting is fundamental to good journalism (including science writing). So I wrote in protest of the provision, which was inserted into our state budget, which made it illegal for the center be housed on campus and made it illegal for journalism teacher like myself to work with the center.

It is my pleasure to update that post today by telling you that Gov. Scott Walker chose to exercise his line-item veto power to remove that provision from the budget....

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The 8th World Conference of Science Journalists, a gathering that draws hundreds of science communicators from around the world, will begin this Monday in Helsinki, Finland. Hosted by the Finnish Society of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ), this year's conference is...

The 8th World Conference of Science Journalists, a gathering that draws hundreds of science communicators from around the world, will begin this Monday in Helsinki, Finland. Hosted by the Finnish Society of Science Editors and Journalists (FASEJ), this year's conference is projected to draw some 850 participants. You can follow the proceedings on Twitter at #WCSJ2013.

The biennial conferences are affililiated with the World Society of Science Journalists (WFSJ), a Canada-based non-profit best known for operating science journalism education programs in developing countries. Members of the federation bid to host a conference - the 2011 WCSJ, for instance, was held in Doha, Qatar and organized by the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA) and the United States-based National Association of Science Writers (NASW); the latter is also an official sponsor of the Helsinki meeting. Previous conferences have been held in countries including...

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As has been widely reported this week, organizers of a pool party in Mexico, hosted by the drink company Jägermeister, decided that they could enhance the experience by...

As has been widely reported this week, organizers of a pool party in Mexico, hosted by the drink company Jägermeister, decided that they could enhance the experience by creating a cloud of fog to drift over the water. The method they chose was pouring the contents of four containers of liquid nitrogen into the pool. The resulting "fog" sent nine people to the hospital, one of whom remains in a coma.

"For no doubt the first time ever, a bad decision was made at a pool party sponsored by Jägermeister ," noted science writer Ian Chant of Geekosystem sarcastically. As usual, Chant tells the story in a clear and lively fashion but he also - and this was what caught my attention - notes that the chemistry of that fog had been widely misreported. To quote...

Yesterday, I wrote a post on my Wired blog about a move by the GOP-dominated Wisconsin state legislature to shut down an investigative reporting program in the University of Wisconsin journalism school where I teach....

Yesterday, I wrote a post on my Wired blog about a move by the GOP-dominated Wisconsin state legislature to shut down an investigative reporting program in the University of Wisconsin journalism school where I teach. I wrote the post in protest. Not only because I wanted to protest an infringement on academic freedom but because I wanted to remind people - including these legislators - that clear and determined journalistic inquiry is an essential part of a good democracy. With that in mind, Paul Raeburn, our chief Tracker, and Phil Hilts, head of the Knight Science Journalism Fellowship program, have invited me to post my essay here as well. I'm grateful for the opportunity.

For the last four years, I’ve taught an investigative reporting class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Not typical, you might say, for a long-time science writer who spends...

On Monday, a massive tornado plowed a near 20-mile path through suburbs of Oklahoma City, killing dozens of people and destroying entire neighborhoods. My purpose in writing about it here at the Tracker is to take a look at the ways that...

On Monday, a massive tornado plowed a near 20-mile path through suburbs of Oklahoma City, killing dozens of people and destroying entire neighborhoods. My purpose in writing about it here at the Tracker is to take a look at the ways that science writers helped illuminate the power of that storm. But stories of big storms are always first stories of devastated lives and I'd like to start by extending the sympathy and best wishes of all of us here to people in those damaged communities.

The tornado that struck in the region of Moore, Oklahoma yesterday was reportedly as much as a mile wide at points and reached peak wind speeds that topped 200 miles an hour. According to the National Weather Service, that classifies it as an EF-4 tornado on the widely accepted...

When researchers first proposed that athletes suffering repeated head blows might face a real risk of long-term brain damage, both players and athletic associations dismissed the idea. But over the last few years, an ongoing wave of deaths, injuries, and evidence (such as...

When researchers first proposed that athletes suffering repeated head blows might face a real risk of long-term brain damage, both players and athletic associations dismissed the idea. But over the last few years, an ongoing wave of deaths, injuries, and evidence (such as this 2009 report revealing a consistent pattern of damage in the brains of dead athletes) has begun to erode such resistance.

It's in the context of the attitude shift that I want to call attention to an outstandingly good set of stories on the subject in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, home paper to a city that is home of a football team famed for its aggressive style of play. The series, by the paper's senior science writer, Mark Roth, is called The Tragedy of CTE (which stands for chronic traumatic...

In a terrific recent piece, Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard takes apart the history of media coverage of false claims linking vaccination to development disorders such as autism. Brainard doesn't mince words about the...

In a terrific recent piece, Columbia Journalism Review's Curtis Brainard takes apart the history of media coverage of false claims linking vaccination to development disorders such as autism. Brainard doesn't mince words about the frequently shoddy coverage of the issue: "The consequences of this coverage go beyond squandering journalistic coverage on a bogus story. There is an evidence that a fear of a link between vaccines and autism, stoked by press coverage, caused some parents to either delay vaccinations for their children or deny them altogether."

In his four-page piece, Brainard acknowledges the central role of researchers, such as the now debunked work of Andrew Wakefield,  whose (now retracted) 1998 Lancet paper is  often considered the starting point for the recent wave of anti-vaccination fervor. But he doesn't let Wakefield's own behavior excuse that of...

On Saturday, The New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill, 88, a scientist famed as a pioneering woman in the United States' rocket system programs and as the inventor, in the 1970s, of a critical propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

...

On Saturday, The New York Times published an obituary for Yvonne Brill, 88, a scientist famed as a pioneering woman in the United States' rocket system programs and as the inventor, in the 1970s, of a critical propulsion system to keep communications satellites from slipping out of their orbits.

The lead, however, didn't mention any of that. It read: "She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise children. 'The world's best mom,' her son Matthew said.' And in case you - like so many of us - found that wrong-headed in the extreme, that's also a lead that's disappeared. If you call up that obit today, you won't find that opening paragraph. The stroganoff bit has been replaced by a different description, that of 'brilliant...

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