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Category: About Journalism

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James Surowiecki
Paul Raeburn
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Why are the prices of pharmaceuticals so high?

We might imagine a 10-part series exploring this question, or a front-page New York Times story that jumps to two full pages inside, or a long story in The New Yorker.

Instead, what we see this week is a short...

Why are the prices of pharmaceuticals so high?

We might imagine a 10-part series exploring this question, or a front-page New York Times story that jumps to two full pages inside, or a long story in The New Yorker.

Instead, what we see this week is a short story in The New Yorker--a one-pager by the New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki, tucked in his usual spot inside The Talk of the Town.

In fewer than 1,000 words, Surowiecki tells us pretty much all we need to know about why drug prices are high and whether they are likely to stay that way. What's most surprising to me is that his discussion of the medical issues and the drugs is absolutely on target. I was surprised not because I expected less of Surowiecki, but because medical and pharmaceutical stories written by non-medical...

[Editor's note: The following is republished with permission from the Covering Health blog of the Association of Health Care Journalists. This post was written by Brenda Goodman, AHCJ's topic leader on medical studies, who writes blog posts and edits tip...

[Editor's note: The following is republished with permission from the Covering Health blog of the Association of Health Care Journalists. This post was written by Brenda Goodman, AHCJ's topic leader on medical studies, who writes blog posts and edits tip sheets and articles intended to help AHCJ members cover medical research. It appeared on April 22.]

Recently, an editor sent me a study to cover on concussions in teenagers.  At least, that’s what we thought the research was about, based on the title of its press release: “Teenagers who have had a concussion also have higher rates of suicide attempts.”

And I was excited to cover the study. Like gut bacteria and anything to do with chocolate or coffee or stem cells, concussion is a hot topic right now. That’s partly because...

Faye Flam
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Former BBC science editor Susan Watts made some thought-provoking points a Nature piece headlined, Society Needs More than Wonder to Respect Science.

The piece starts with an...

Former BBC science editor Susan Watts made some thought-provoking points a Nature piece headlined, Society Needs More than Wonder to Respect Science.

The piece starts with an observation that television stations, at least in Britain, are using scientists for “expert” commentary on science stories, whether or not the news in question has anything to do with these scientists’ fields. Such science communicators are great for generating excitement and wonder, she argues, but they aren’t journalists, and therefore don’t do much to expose what she calls “the murky underbelly of science.”

There is a fundamental difference between science communication and science journalism. At the science communication end of the spectrum sit the stories that show people how exciting science can be, the discovery...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's...

The news website of MIT's School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences--known around the campus as SHASS--asked me to say something briefly about the Tracker and its mission. Here is how I answered SHASS's "3 Questions" for the Tracker.

This also gave me an occasion to bring up--yet again!--the story of the "immortal" jellyfish.

Enjoy.

-Paul Raeburn

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes...

Doctors should not accept money to promote drug companies that fund their research.

Hard to argue with.

There's a legitimate argument for paying researchers to speak, and it doesn't mean they become pharma salespeople.

Also hard to argue with.

The first of these statements comes from Charles Ornstein of ProPublica, one of the authors of "Double Dip: Doctors Paid to Advise, Promote Drug Companies That Fund Their Research," co-published by ProPublica and The Boston Globe. The story argues that Yoav Golan, an infectious-disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, is wrong to accept "tens...

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this...

When we think about science and religion, we often see the two in conflict. Science says the world and its creatures arose over billions of years by way of natural processes; and some religions--not all--argue that the world was made in seven days by a being whom we should therefore revere.

You can see this dichotomy in a piece by the social critic Barbara Ehrenreich in in the most recent Sunday Review in The New York Times. "My atheism is hard core...a stance I perpetuated by opting, initially, for a career in science," she begins. Science is not an expression of atheism, just as it is not an expression of religion. Even smart people like Ehrenreich can become confused about that.

One person who didn't become confused about science and spirituality--and who showed there is a place for them to coexist--was...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that...

Philip J. Hilts, the director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT and a former science reporter for The New York Times and The Washington Post, has announced that he will retire at the end of June.

Hilts, who took over the program in 2008, expanded its international reach and added training in video and audio storytelling. And under his leadership, the number of applicants for the year-long Knight Science Journalism fellowships  for science reporters grew from about 80 per year to about 150 per year.

"The Knight Program has been a tremendous asset to MIT, and a powerful resource for our understanding of the relationship between science and technology and the public," said Deborah Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. "I am...

Until today, the powerful language in the latest climate-change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change generated scant coverage, and little or no demand from reporters for government reactions.

Coverage of any kind was meager yesterday, as I pointed out in...

Until today, the powerful language in the latest climate-change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change generated scant coverage, and little or no demand from reporters for government reactions.

Coverage of any kind was meager yesterday, as I pointed out in my previous post. Today, some others caught up, running stories from The Associated Press or writing off of the IPCC report and press release. But aside from the handful of reporters who went to Yokohama for the release of the report, nobody was doing much original reporting.

I found one example of the kind of story I was looking for when I opened The New York Times today. There Coral Davenport wrote a news analysis reporting that the new data puts...

I'm apparently not the only one to take a shot at Nate Silver's new news site. He's taking hits from all over.

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs...

I'm apparently not the only one to take a shot at Nate Silver's new news site. He's taking hits from all over.

Tabitha M. Powledge at On Science Blogs wraps up much of the coverage--all of it negative, as far as I can tell. The principal line of attack is not a subtle one: Silver's new data journalism site lacks, uh, how should I put this...

Data.

Powledge quotes various commentators who have said that, and she also raises questions about some of the people Silver has chosen to cover science. Roger Pielke, Jr. and Emily Oster are idiosyncratic choices, to say the least.

Powledge thinks Silver will get better, because it always takes time for startups to find their footing.

...

The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example: ...

The email began this way:

Rotary International (www.rotary.org) can cover travel costs for a writer who secures an assignment with a top-tier U.S./global media outlet to write about its global humanitarian work.  Example:  Travel with Oregon Rotarian Nancy Hughes and her team to visit a stove factory they help to establish near Antigua, Guatemala between June 18–27.

They tell me Guatemala is lovely in June...

The offer is apparently being tendered by the public relations firm GolinHarris on behalf of Rotary. The email goes on to explain why the stove project is important, the number of lives that can be saved by better stoves, and so forth.

I'm all for it. Who's against saving lives?

What I'm not for is to have sources pay for coverage. A reporter's obligation is to present what he or she learns to readers, viewers, or listeners...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted...

Experts struggling to explain a new study that finds little harm from saturated fat in the diet have found another clue: Errors were discovered in the new paper.

"A new version of the publication had to be posted shortly after it appeared on the website of the Annals of Internal Medicine to correct several errors. And although the study's first author stands by the conclusions, a number of scientists are criticizing the paper and even calling on the authors to retract it," writes Kai Kupferschmidt at Science.

Harvard's Walter Willett, whose decades of research was flatly contradicted by the new study, told Kupferschmidt that the study's authors "have done a huge amount of damage. I think a retraction...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not...

Last week, Rajiv Chowdhury, an epidemiologist at Cambridge University, reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine that an exhaustive review of studies on fats in the diet had found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased the risk of heart disease.

“My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we should worry about” in our diets, he told Anahad O'Connor at The New York Times.

Science writers who reported that finding were then left with the problem of how to account for decades of research and advice that seemed to say the opposite.

They struggled.

The conclusion seems to be that nobody is quite sure how to reconcile the old advice with the new finding. Here is the best that five reporters could come up with:

1. Let's start with O'Connor at the Times. She...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA...

"Here's How NASA Thinks Society Will Collapse," read one headline on Mar. 18. Here was another, on Mar. 20: "NASA Study: Civilization Doomed to Collapse Soon."

And there were others, some of which made the distinction that this was not a NASA study, but rather a NASA-funded study, which hedges a bit but still suggests vague NASA approval: "NASA-funded report says society is trending toward big collapse" read the headline in the Houston Chronicle on Mar. 18. (And as we will see, even "NASA-funded" isn't quite right.)

But as the coverage continued, it began to morph into something quite different...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online...

The successful and respected blog Retraction Watch--with 100,000 unique visitors and 450,000 page views per month, and growing--is now launching its own version of an online subscription.

But as Retraction Watch's founders, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, acknowledge, their subscription is more like a request that readers throw some cash into a tip jar.

"We're hoping some of you will consider making a financial contribution," Oransky writes. The idea is to use the extra funds for operating expenses, hiring other writers as contributors, conducting investigations, and building a proper retractions database.

But Retraction Watch will remain freely available to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. "Open access to information about scientific corrections and retractions is...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook...

For the distinguished AP science writer Malcolm Ritter, Tuesday was a day of somber reflection.

"On my 30th anniversary as an AP science writer this week, I found myself interviewing a scientist about a dinosaur known as 'the chicken from hell,'" he wrote on his Facebook page.

It's easy to see how emotional that must have been.

But it shouldn't deter us from extending sincere congratulations to a writer whose consistent excellence and steady hand might put us in mind of Iron Man Cal Ripken of the Orioles. I worked right beside Malcolm for a dozen years, and I can tell you that you will not find a more dependable, capable, or collegial science writer anywhere in our business.

One of Malcolm's colleagues, AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein, sent the Tracker an email with an eloquent description of Malcolm's work that I thought was worth reprinting here, so that I can add that I happily and...