KSJ Tracker

January 6, 2015


A farewell post: Three reasons why good science writing is worth defending.

After five-and-a-half years as a media critic at the Tracker, I'm more convinced than ever that science writing is thriving. I said that recently to Bethany Brookshire of Science News, and she seemed surprised. I asked why, and she said: "Because of what you write."

I knew what she meant. I haven't checked this out, but I suspect I've written more posts criticizing bad stories than praising good ones. It's one of the ways I've made my mark on the Tracker--by focusing a lot of my effort on what I would call journalistic malpractice.

I ...

December 31, 2014


Globe story on non-invasive prenatal testing offers murky argument.

An ominous headline in The Boston Globe on Dec. 14 promised a good, tough investigative story: "Oversold prenatal tests spur some to choose abortions," it read. That seemed to be a story that would indict the marketing of the tests. Or perhaps it was suggesting that the tests are not accurate--prenatal testing does indeed lead some women to have abortions when the tests show chromosomal abnormalities in the fetus.

I was eager to read on. Was the Globe trying to say that some women had abortions when their fetuses were healthy? It wasn't clear.

The story begins with an ...

December 30, 2014


(UPDATED/2*) What Ho? A 2014 List of Lists of best, worst, or otherwisest in 2014


Well, hello again. Charlie here and does time not fly?

  An unexpected email arrived the other day from Paul Raeburn, head and sole surviving blogger for the KSJ Tracker as the curtain closes on its run of 8+ years. A successor of some sort is promised by the powers-that-be but it is still a secret in on which I am not. Paul invited one last post on the top science news events of the year as judged by publications, websites, and other organizations or individuals who follow our beats closely. Paul's email took note of a recent post ...

December 23, 2014


Cancer & poverty: When a reporter's journey becomes part of the story.

"I thought I understood poor. I grew up poor in Athens, the daughter of a single mother of five," Virginia Lynne Anderson wrote recently in a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But while working on the story, she "came to realize there’s a big difference between being poor and living in poverty. When you are poor, you’ve got a shot at making it out. Millions of poor Americans become success stories. When you live in poverty, your best shot is just to stay alive."

The story follows an Atlanta woman named Donna Woods, 45, a mother of six ...

December 19, 2014


Malcolm Gladwell faces new charges of using others' information without attribution.

This paragraph was plagiarized:

In the mid-nineteenth century, workers began digging through Hoosac Mountain, a massive impediment nearly five miles thick, for a rail line to connect Boston to the Hudson River. The project would cost more than ten times the budgeted estimate. If the people involved had known that, the line would not have been built and factories of northwestern Massachusetts wouldn't have been able to ship their goods so easily to the expanding West. The cost of freight would have remained stubbornly high, and Massachusetts would have been immeasurably poorer. So is ignorance an impediment to progress ...

December 15, 2014


Scientific American reshapes blog network, cuts number of blogs and bloggers in half.

Scientific American has rebuilt its blog network to "create an improved balance of topic areas and bring in some new voices," the editors announced Dec. 15th. The move will cut the number of blogs and bloggers roughly in half, said Curtis Brainard, Scientific American's blogs editor.

That means that some familiar names will no longer be part of the network. I haven't been able to get a list of the dropped bloggers, but the blogs page now lists farewells from several current bloggers, including S.E. Gould, Janet D. Stemwedel, Hannah Waters, and Shara Yurkiewicz. Others, presumably, will ...

December 15, 2014


Retraction Watch awarded a two-year, $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation

You might think of it as a website winning a genius grant: Retraction Watch, after more than four years and 2,000 posts, has been awarded a two-year, $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to expand its work with the creation of a comprehensive database of retractions.

Such a database does not now exist, and its creation will close "a gap that deprives scholarly publishing of a critical mechanism for self-correction," according to the proposal by Reaction Watch's founders, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus.

"While we're able to cover somewhere around two-thirds of new retractions as they ...

December 12, 2014

The 13 boldest ideas in science: If you wear lipstick and pearls...

(Update 12/13: A Tracker reader notes that Alexandra Witze is a correspondent for Nature and a contributing writer for Science News, two publications that might, in part, be seen as competing with New Scientist. I don't think her employment detracts from the point she's making.)

"Get your head around the 13 boldest ideas in science," NewScientist commands us.

O.K.--I'm in! I don't have a subscription to NewScientist, but I can tell just from the teasers in front of the paywall that this is cool stuff. Higher Dimensions. Quantum Reality. Infinity. Deep Time. And ...

December 11, 2014


In the aftermath of the Holsey execution: What courts say about drunken lawyers and hypothetical justice.

We just simply put a mirror under the lawyer's nose, and if it clouds up, that's effective assistance of counsel.

That's what a lawyer told Ken Armstrong of The Marshall Project after the execution of Robert Wayne Holsey Tuesday night. Armstrong reports that Holsey's court-appointed attorney, who was later disbarred, "admitted to trying the case while drinking up to a quart of vodka each evening, the equivalent of about 21 shots."

You might think that supplying a defendant with a drunken lawyer does not meet his right to legal representation, but "for decades, in courts across ...

December 10, 2014


Science Times editor David Corcoran takes a buyout.

After what he calls "a cool 50 years in the newspaper business," David Corcoran, the editor of Science Times, has decided to "explore Life After."

"My last day here is Dec. 19," he told me in an email, adding that he would "miss the job and the people, including the great freelance writers I've had the privilege of working with."

Corcoran came to Science Times without any background in science, but he proved to be a quick learner. And he has guided the section with a steady hand.

More from Corcoran:

I was incredibly lucky to stumble into the ...