Category Archives: Opinion Pieces

We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard–Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about why many pieces about the need for investigative science journalism don’t acknowledge the factors behind its scarcity.  Conversations about investigations in science journalism often seem to assume that reporters don’t see critiquing science as important, but journalists’ individual interests don’t set the tone for journalistic coverage  all by themselves. In journalism, economics and politics shape our work. It’s basically impossible to disentangle why an article was written the way it was from simply reading the article.

Discussing the economics and politics that shape editorial decisions is a crucial part of addressing the relative absence of investigative science journalism, because for many reporters, quick hits– daily news stories, magazine blurbs, and blog posts– are our bread-and-butter (…when we get any bread at all…). Most casual readers encounter science via casual quick takes more often than they encounter it through investigative and/or longform articles.

There are definitely books and workshops out there to teach journalists how to chase down leads and verify what sources say, but at the end of the day, every investigative reporter I’ve met says that a lot of investigation is just spending a lot of time going through interviews and documents, looking for patterns. It’s very, very hard to justify putting in Spotlight-esque hours without a steady salary.

Unfortunately, the economic realities do not prevent verification issues from rearing their heads in short news stories…

Continue reading “We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard–Part 2” »

We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard-Part 1

[^^”How do you know?”: The question that science journalists must not forget to ask.]

One night about a month ago, I was at a friend’s birthday party, knocking back tequila and rum with assorted MIT-affiliated twentysomethings. Somehow I ended up talking about tardigrades with a post-doc from an  uber-spiffy genetics institute.

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[This is what a tardigrade looks like. Photo via Peter Von Bagh]

Tardigrades are a clan of microscopic but thoroughly adorable invertebrates, that recently found themselves at the center of a huge genomics controversy.  The tardigrade genome “kerfluffle” also happened to be one of the stories I wrote about for MIT Science Writing class.

So when the post-doc told tipsy me something to the effect of: “The guy whose tardigrade genome paper got criticized actually came to our institute and gave a talk. We found out later that some of his slides had been plagiarized from a third tardigrade genome group in Japan!” I was pretty appalled.

Continue reading “We Need Investigative Science Journalism But Learning to Investigate Science is Hard-Part 1” »

Help me find standout “short-form” science writing

Today is a big day for me, and not just because my 1st byline for The Atlantic went live today.

Although seriously, go check it out.

TheAtlantic_HiVscreenshot

It’s also special because I just went on record announcing my intention to compile a quarterly “Best Shortform Science Writing” roundup, so that us science writing whippersnappers can see examples of how front-of-book and daily news stories oughta be written. You can find my full spiel about why we need such an anthology here on Medium, but the takehome message is that I need you, my dear Internet readers,  to send me ideas for which stories I should include.

The “Best Shortform Science Writing” will be quarterly– as in every 3 months– and the 1st one will cover January-March 2016. The only problem is I just came up with this idea a few days ago, so I especially need suggestions for memorable short articles from January and February!

Since “shortform science writing” is a hugely diverse category,  here’s my tentative “chunkification” scheme for organizing the articles:

  • Short-Short & Front-of-Book (under 350 words)
  • Medium Short (850 words & under)
  • Single-study Deep Dives (700–1200 words but focused on one study)

Continue reading “Help me find standout “short-form” science writing” »

Why I Dropped Out of My Science Writing Grad Program

“Should I go to science journalism grad school?”

I’ve been asking myself that question since my junior year of undergrad, and I asked myself  every day I spent MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing.

In fact, I’m still asking myself that question.

Hi. My name is Diana Crow, and I’m a science writing grad school dropout.  I have the option to re-apply to finish my degree in another year, and even though I really want to do that, I’m also don’t want to risk a repeat of what happened this fall, so yeah…MIT is great!

That’s what I’ve been telling people this month. It’s true, but it leaves a lot unsaid.

Deciding on whether to go to grad school– and if so, which grad school?– is hard. I think it’s doubly hard when you’re trying to decide whether to take on a program in a field where a master’s isn’t technically a job requirement.

So back in December, when I was still on the fence about dropping out, I started writing this blog post to (hopefully) help other people who are deciding where and whether to go to grad school.

(It’s gonna be a little bit long and disjointed, so feel free to skip over parts or read them out of order, if that suits you.)

So….should I have gone to science writing grad school?

Continue reading “Why I Dropped Out of My Science Writing Grad Program” »

Dawkins’ ideas about cultural memes are what lead me to embrace feminism and social justice (So how did he end up being such an asshole?)

[Trigger Warning: rape, anti-theism, and appropriation of scientific authority by bigots.]

Richard Dawkins confounds me.

On the one hand, he’s brilliant. On the other hand, he tweets bulls*** like this series of tweets where he tries to argue that “logically” “stranger rape” is worse than “date rape”, but saying that “stranger rape” is worse is not necessarily an endorsement of date rape.

Those tweets may not constitute an “endorsement” of date rape, but why the f*** is Dr./Prof. Dawkins sitting around in front of his computer trying to rank the awfulness of different types of rape?

He “retracted” his original statement without actually retracting anything by saying “What I have learned today is that there are people on Twitter who think in absolutist terms, to an extent I wouldn’t have believed possible”.

Which makes it even worse. Because the people who were offended by his original tweets were not saying “Rape is rape” because they’ve been brainwashed into regurgitating absolutist dogma; they’re saying it because they want to point out that date rape can be incredibly, incredibly traumatizing and that Dr./Prof. Dawkins is NOT in a position to say that “stranger rape” is inherently more damaging/traumatizing/morally reprehensible. Continue reading “Dawkins’ ideas about cultural memes are what lead me to embrace feminism and social justice (So how did he end up being such an asshole?)” »

On temporary hiatus (because I’m settling in at my new Scientista gig)

June 2014 has been a whirlwind month for me. I went to my first hackathon, my first major science writing conference, and landed a role as co-editor-in-chief of the Scientista Foundation website.

I’ve been taking some time off from blogging to focus on freelancing and the upcoming redesign of the Scientista website, but don’t worry. Will back with more recaps, book reviews, and miscellany by the end of the month (if not sooner.)

Incidentally, we’re still looking for contributors and section editors, so if you’re interested in science writing, check us out!

Why I Said “ASAN isn’t perfect” (aka “Building an Interdisciplinary Dialogue between Neuroscientists, Psychiatrists, Parents, and Autism Advocates is really hard work”)

Part I: Why I’m Writing This Post

Last week’s post about ASAN’s statement against the Combating Autism Act shattered the record for page views on this site. I was kind of overwhelmed by how many people who had never met me, many of whom were autistic themselves, reblogged my post and thanked me for writing it.

That was really gratifying to hear because even though I identify as neuroatypical (or neurodivergent, whichever term you prefer) because of my ADHD, I do not (and cannot) claim to speak for the autistic community or the autism parent community in any way.

But I believe that everyone should have a say in what kind of medical interventions their bodies are subject to and that the biomedical establishment does not spend enough time talking to autistic people about what kinds interventions they’re comfortable with.

Continue reading “Why I Said “ASAN isn’t perfect” (aka “Building an Interdisciplinary Dialogue between Neuroscientists, Psychiatrists, Parents, and Autism Advocates is really hard work”)” »

7 Reasons Why an Autism Advocacy Organization Would Oppose the Combating Autism Act

BREAKING NEWS: The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) just issued an official statement in opposition to the renewal of the Combating Autism Act.

If any of you are wondering, “Why would an autistic advocacy organization oppose a bill that allocates funds toward autism research?” here’s a quick breakdown of the most frequently-cited reasons (in no particular order).

#1: The name “Combating Autism” is in and of itself offensive. Think about how people would react if an appropriations bill for PTSD research was called “Combating PTSD”. It would never fly, and it’s not okay to equate “autism” to an “enemy combatant that needs to be killed/neutralized”. Ever.

#2: Many autistic people see their autism as an integral part of their identity. It’s kind of similar to the way most of us identify as being an extrovert or an introvert, but more fraught. This does NOT mean that all people who use the #StopCombatingMe hashtag are completely against medication, but they are against framing autism as something that is inherently destructive and needs to be “cured”, “combated”, and/or “eliminated”.

#3: The media, politicians, lobbyists, and many parental advocates have a bizarre fixation on trying to “save” autistic children and prevent future cases of autism, while ignoring the insanely high rates of unemployment and homelessness among autistic adults. It is as if autistic adults are invisible, but everyone wants to stop white, upper/middle-class children from “falling prey to autism” at all costs.

Continue reading “7 Reasons Why an Autism Advocacy Organization Would Oppose the Combating Autism Act” »

Why scientists aren’t necessarily the best science-explainers

Earlier today, I stumbled across this review of Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, that was written by a neuroscience grad student. I liked the piece, but it got me thinking….

Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old, working at The New York Post, who suddenly “went mad” and would have almost certainly died, if one of her doctors had not realized that her “madness” may have been the result of a rare auto-immune reaction. Anti-NMDA encephalitis, to be precise.

If you read my review of Molly Caldwell Crosby’s book on encephalitis lethargica (or know anything at all about chronic Lyme disease), you know that anything that causes encephalitis (swelling in the brain) is bad news.

Continue reading “Why scientists aren’t necessarily the best science-explainers” »

Why a science journalist is like a seed crystal (and other thoughts)

When I think about what it means to be a science journalist, I think about chocolate.

I’m not kidding.

One night when I went to a talk about the science of food, and one of the presenters, a Harvard professor/master chef, started telling us about the difference between good and bad chocolate. “If you take a bar of good chocolate, like Ghiradelli, and break it in half, you hear a snap.”

“But if you take a bar of cheap chocolate, it’ll break, but you won’t heat the snap. And it may not break cleanly.” Continue reading “Why a science journalist is like a seed crystal (and other thoughts)” »