NOVA has an unparalleled reputation and track record for excellence in science journalism on television; no other organization can come close. Yet its attempt to extend its brand to a new science news website–if brand extension is what this is–seems to be off to a very soft start.
NOVA Next, as the site is called, invited me to review it. On Feb. 28, Tim De Chant, the editor of NOVA Next, welcomed readers by saying NOVA would bring to the web the expertise and passion displayed it displays in its television show. This is how he described the venture:
NOVA Next will be focused on big stories, the sort you’re used to hearing from NOVA. We’ll have some of the biggest names in science, technology, and engineering giving us the inside scoop on the future of their fields. We’ll also have some of the best and brightest science journalists tracking down and reporting important and compelling science stories.
What we have now, some three weeks after the welcoming note, is mostly very small stories. And while we see a few familiar and respected names among the contributors, the site is nowhere close to giving us a broad variety of posts from big names in science with the inside scoop.
Today's home page promotes a substantial post on gene patenting by Amy Maxmen, published on March 19th; another on the latest Higgs boson data by Don Lincoln, posted 5 days ago; and a third on drones, written by Lauren Aguirre, posted more than a week ago.
The home page also features a list of brief links, with headlines only, that take readers to such things as this:
Giant Squid Are One Species Worldwide
Kai Kupferschmidt, writing for Science Magazine’s Science Now:
Gilbert and colleagues from all over the world have analyzed the genetics of giant squid for the first time. The data “corroborates what has been said earlier using morphological criteria,” says Steve O’Shea, a longtime expert on giant squids who worked at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand until 2011: that there is only one species, globally distributed, of giant squid. But the results also deepen the mystery surrounding these enigmatic creatures. The researchers found startlingly little genetic variation, raising questions about the species’ recent history.
A nice reminder that parts of our home planet remain unexplored.
As far as I can tell, that is the entire post. De Chant apparently wrote the headline, the line introducing Kai Kupferschmidt, and the one-line comment at the end. The post, in others words, essentially consists entirely of a fat paragraph lifted from Science Now.
Here's another, in full:
What Big Eyes They Had
Pallab Ghosh, reporting for the BBC, on the latest theory about why Neanderthals went extinct while modern humans lived on:
The research team explored the idea that the ancestor of Neanderthals left Africa and had to adapt to the longer, darker nights and murkier days of Europe. The result was that Neanderthals evolved larger eyes and a much larger visual processing area at the backs of their brains.
The humans that stayed in Africa, on the other hand, continued to enjoy bright and beautiful days and so had no need for such an adaption. Instead, these people, our ancestors, evolved their frontal lobes, associated with higher-level thinking, before they spread across the globe.
Of 15 brief links on the home page, 13 lead to posts like these, and one simply directs readers to a USGS website. Only one is a post written by NOVA Next, "It's Official: Voyager 1 has left the Solar System." That post is 95 words long. All of these briefs come from De Chant.
NOVA Next also does not have its own Twitter feed; it tweets as @novapbs, which doesn't distinguish it from the television show. That seems odd for a site that promises so much. Why shouldn't it have its own Twitter feed? Is this a new venture, as it is described, or not?
In his welcome message, De Chant notes that "because this is NOVA, we haven't forgotten about video. From our extensive library, we can round out our articles with rich animations and exclusive interviews." That's certainly an advantage. But what NOVA Next seems to have now, more than anything else, is promise. We will have to check back–I'm not sure when–to see whether it lives up to that promise.