Blogging Medicine Science

Oh, no, TIME Magazine’s Michael Lemonick hates me…

…well, not really:

OK, I don’t really hate them. But it used to be that science journalists stood between scientists and the public. The scientists did research, then we asked questions and translated their dry jargon and complicated ideas into scintillating prose. Sure, there were a few scientists, like Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who wrote engagingly about the mysteries of the natural world, but they were relatively few.

Now look what’s happened. Go to the Science Blogs website and you’ll find dozens of actual scientists, commenting in real time on every aspect of science you can imagine. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were inarticulate–but most of them aren’t! They’re eloquent, funny, sarcastic and really smart (the last kind of goes without saying).No sooner does a paper appear in a major (or even a minor journal) than they jump in with knowledgeable reaction.

I hope Michael doesn’t think that we science bloggers (or ScienceBloggers) are in any way a threat to science journalists. For one thing, I at least have no desire to give up science to write full time. I will admit that I do toy from time to time with the idea of writing a book, but what usually stops me is that it would almost certainly necessitate suspending the blog for the period of time it took to write the book. I can find time for one or the other, but not both. For another thing, blogging is an entirely different medium. My prose is often so wordy simply because if I took the time to edit it down to the lean, mean sort of prose that I use to write my scientific articles and grant applications, for example, I’d be lucky if I produced one blog post a week, given that editing and rewriting usually takes several times as long as it does for me to produce the first draft. Fortunately, my readers don’t mind (most of the time, anyway). For another thing, science journalists can’t afford to be as opinionated in their writing as we science and medical bloggers are. There aren’t too many newspapers or magazines that would permit the sorts of posts I write on a regular basis, and I realize that, if I ever manage to con (I mean persuade) a magazine or newspaper editor to let me write an article for his or her magazine, I realize that I’ll have to tone my usual level of Respectful Insolence™ down considerably. Again, it’s a different medium.

What I actually hope to see happening is for journalists to use science and medical blogs as resources to help them cut through a lot of the crap and hype that surround various announced scientific or medical studies quickly. As Lemonick points out, within a day or two after an “important” (or, more frequently, “hyped”) paper is announced, often several bloggers will have analyzed its strengths and weaknesses in detail. There’s even a system being developed to allow easy aggregation of blog posts about peer-reviewed research.

Speaking of which, there are several peer-reviewed papers that I’ve been meaning to discuss, but got sidetracked by other topics. Next week would be a good time for me to try to tackle at least one or two of them, then make a New Years’ resolution to do more blogging like that in 2008, particularly when it helps me to show, for instance, which medical treatments are evidence-based and which are not, which feeds into the entire mission of this blog.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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