Promoting Good Coverage of Science in the Media

Ben Goldacre’s recent Guardian article (and Bad Science blog post) criticising some of the coverage of science by the press (specifically with regards to a pair of related studies published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine has sparked a number of discussions in the blogosphere. On the Bad Science mini-blog, Goldacre also proposed an idea to combat the problem of churnalism, suggesting that, “a site that links media coverage and blogs to the academic article / automated plus crowdsourced, would change everything.”

This idea was further discussed today by Mark Liberman on Language Log (a linguistics/language-related blog, which often covers topics like the semantics of science news headlines and the use of “mendacity quotes”):

What Ben is suggesting, I guess, would be something like Google News for science, with the addition of links to the underlying scientific publications (if any), and to coverage in blogs and web forums. Also, it would be useful to have the clusters of links be durable — i.e. available across time, unlike Google News — and perhaps linked into a loose network of higher-order relationships.

PLoS ONE articles often receive a lot of coverage in the media and because our open-access articles are freely available to read online as soon as they are published, we always encourage journalists to link to the original study in online versions of their reports. However, with some notable exceptions, this doesn’t seem to happen very often (although increasingly, links are being added to the PLoS ONE homepage where we often highlight newsworthy articles for interested readers). Of course, the reporters to whom we send our press releases (which include the URL for the articles) aren’t always the people who are able to add the URLs to the stories with various web teams and editors often involved in the process of getting a news story online.

As Liberman notes, our bloggers are often very good at linking back to the original study when they cover PLoS ONE papers; they know that by linking to the paper, their readers will be better informed and will be able to post more insightful comments on the blog (and on the article itself). While the idea of a platform that would automatically refer readers of news stories to the studies they are based on is great in theory, a more practical solution for right now is for science journalists and bloggers to always provide a link to the original PLoS study when writing about one of our papers.

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