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Sensational Science in the Press Part 2: Are Newspapers Any Better?
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Sensational Science in the Press Part 2: Are Newspapers Any Better?

Right now I’m in “pre-conference crunch mode” along with “manuscript writing mode” so “digging through popular science posts” has taken a bit of a back seat. Please forgive me! I do have some good ones saved for next month, but for now I want to follow up on last month’s analysis of science in the media. Then I focused on the big TV network’s websites, and how the displayed science news. This month I’ve picked some of the top English speaking newspapers from around the world (four from the US, one from the UK, and one from India) to see how THEIR website’s fair.

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The New York Times is one of the few, if only, newspapers I follow on Twitter for science articles. Their website is… crowded, but at least they’ve made room for both “Science” and “Technology” on the left navigation, as well as separate boxes lower on the page that list the most recent few articles. The Science section itself appears to have two sub-sections: “Environment” and “Space and Cosmos”. I’m not sure why those are the two grand areas. As I would expect, the Science section is pretty good. They have articles on big science news like the repeat of the faster-than-light neutrinos experiment, opinion pieces, some investigative/feature pieces, and blog posts. I could easily spend a lot of time here and probably learn a lot.

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In contrast to the Times, the Post doesn’t have a science section anywhere on the home page. There is however an editor’s choice section that includes articles about the Mars mission, and the faster than light neutrinos. Unfortunately, technology ends up bundled in “Business and Technology.” I guess with the Post you have to hope science news is important enough to show up featured under a different category.

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There is again, no mention of science on the homepage- not even featured articles. There is a Tech section, within which is a “Science and Space” sub-section. I’m not sure what to make of the title “Science and Space”- are they somehow mutually exclusive? But, once you find your way to that sub-section there are a bunch of articles on space and the environment. I can’t tell if these articles are published by the paper, or pulled from their different blogs or “communities”.

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As you roll over the LA Times top navigation bar there is a “Science and Environment” section under “US”. I’m again confused by the unity of “Science and something” but also by how it falls under “US”. The section itself is odd. The top four articles were on the head of the Sierra Club stepping down, the FDA pulling a drug from market, feral cats in south LA, and a fire outside Reno. Going down to “More on Science and the Environment” has stories on a dog beach in Santa Monica, the safety of hybrid cars, the acquisition of forestlands by the University of California, and the desire of the US to increase gas mileage. What?!

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I was going by distribution numbers, but it became quickly apparent it wasn’t fair to pick a tabloid like “The Sun” to represent the UK. So I went with The Times instead. The Times also has a top bar that when you roll over “News” sections appear including one for Science. Unfortunately, clicking on anything brings up a pay wall. Ugh, England, you’re killing me here!

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The Times of India has a double row top navigation with one option being “Science”. When you go to that section, embarrassingly for the US, the first story is “For US House, pizza a vegetable.” (Maybe it was good I didn’t see the British commentary on “science” in the US!) Besides that, there seem to be an odd combination of blog posts and articles listed, with no apparent demarcation between the two types. Some are very colloquial, while others delve into new discoveries. Despite the apparent equal footing reporting and blogging get here, I’ll give the Times of India extra points (if I was giving points anyways) for building appropriate skepticism into the teaser text. Phrases like “fiercely contested” and “claim scientists”. They even use the word “discovered” in quotes as if they don’t even believe it!

 

In summary, it doesn’t appear as though most big name newspapers place science news more prominently on their websites than the TV networks. The notable exception is the New York Times, and potentially the Times of India- although I’m still not sure about the consistency of their quality. The real question though is, are news outlets burying science news because the public doesn’t care, or does the public not care because the science news is buried? Or is it a vicious cycle combining both?

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Nick Fahrenkopf is a Ph.D. candidate studying nanobiosciences- applying physics and engineering concepts and techniques to biological and medical problems. Outside of his research he enjoys curling, and resists the urge to dig too far into the science behind it. Always skeptical, he enjoys debunking email chains and digging deeper into popular science articles and blog posts. Follow his most random thoughts on science on Twitter.

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Need to catch up with other recent Sensational Science headlines?

Sensational Science in the Popular Press: Can Anyone Get it Right?

Potatoes Kill Cancer With Electrons from Fukushima? Suspicious Indeed.

How to Spot Sensational Headlines (Hint: They’re Everywhere)

Memory Expansion and the Purpose of Happiness

Why It’s a Great Time to Be in Science

The Death of Bin Laden and Space Medicine?

Army Origami to Space Infections

Scientists Make Computers with Gold and DNA

Researchers Link Processed Foods to Lower IQ in Kids

Science Proves Keeping a Diary Makes You Smarter

Facebook Stalking can Actually Kill You

Alcohol More Harmful than Heroin

Mexican Beer Dermatitis: Booze Plus Lime can Cause Nasty Rash

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Spotted any sensational science headlines recently?

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. bemurr

    wrote on December 1, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    It's pretty insane that these sources of "knowledge" don't prominently feature what is arguably the most significant contributor to our knowledge of the world – SCIENCE!

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