The Summer of Our Discontent

Consider this a loud shout out for a recent state-of-science writing post by Seth Mnookin at PloS: The state of science writing circa 2012: The summer of our discontent made glorious by the possibilities of our times.

Mnookin begins by acknowledging a parade of science communication low notes, the self-induced destruction of the career of Jonah Lehrer; The New York Times decision to promote a proposterous theory of autism in its opinion pages; gullibility at Gizmodo, and, of course, Naomi Wolf's recent elegy to the "thinking" vagina, which ( as far I can tell) seems to only offer evidence that she's  thinking about another Big Book.

"Even moments that should have been celebratory ended up leaving many of us who care about science, and science communication, grumpy and dispirited," Mnookin writes, as he launches into an exploration of the science, science claims, real science, and non-science stories that resulted from publication of ENCODE papers and their detailed analysis of the human genome.

But as he also notes, the summer also saw an invigorating series of corrections and responses to these dilemmas – from meticulous annotations of Lehrer's work to Emily Willingham's deconstruction of the Times' autism piece (mentioned here at Tracker) to a wonderful piece by John Timmer at Ars Technica regarding ENCODE: Most of what you read was wrong; how press releases rewrote scientific history.  And, of course, David Dobbs' elegant evisceration of Wolf's book at his Wired blog.

In total, Mnookin offers a roller coaster of a ride through the recent annals of science journalism – which should tell you that it's a very smart look at who we are.

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