Tag Archives: science journalism

The BBC and linking part 1: users are not an audience

UPDATE: The BBC have started a debate on the issue on their Editors’ Blog

Ben Goldacre is experiencing understandable frustration with the BBC’s policy on linking to science papers:

Jane Ashley of the website’s health team, says that when they write an article based on scientific research:

“It is our policy to link to the journal rather than the article itself. This is because sometimes links to articles don’t work or change, and sometimes the journals need people to register or pay.”

In email correspondence defending their policy, Richard Warry, Assistant editor, Specialist journalism, adds:

“Many papers are available on the web via subscription only, while others give only an Abstract summary. In these instances, the vast majority of our readers would not be able to read the full papers, without paying for access, even if we provided the relevant link.”

This just doesn’t stand up. Here’s why:

  • An abstract alone is actually very useful in providing more context than a journal homepage provides
  • It also provides useful text that can be used to either find another version of the paper (for example on the author’s or a conference website),
  • It provides extra details on the authors, giving you more insight into the research’s reliability and also an avenue should you want to approach them to get hold of the paper.
  • Even for the ‘vast majority’ who cannot pay for access to the paper, they will still be taken to the journal homepage anyway.
  • Believing that the time spent pasting one link rather than another is better spent on providing “authoritative, accurate and attractive reportage” is a false economy. Authoritative, accurate and attractive coverage relies at least in part in allowing users to point out issues with scientific research or its reporting.
  • Catering for a ‘vast majority’ belies a broadcast media mindset that treats users as passive consumers. The minority of users who can access those papers can actually be key contributors to a collaborative journalism process. If you let them.

If it helps, here’s a broadcast analogy: imagine producing a TV package which captions a source as ‘Someone from the Bank of England’. That’s not saving time for good journalism – it’s just bad journalism.

Linking – and deep linking in particular – are basic elements of online journalism. Why can news organisations still not get this right? More on this here

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…Meanwhile, bloggers investigate scientific claims

Ben Goldacre writes about the suing of Simon Singh by The British Chiropractic Association (you’ll see a badge on this blog on the issue), and how bloggers have helped investigate their claims.

“Fifteen months after the case began, the BCA finally released the academic evidence it was using to support specific claims. Within 24 hours this was taken apart meticulously by bloggers, referencing primary research papers, and looking in every corner.

“Professor David Colquhoun of UCL pointed out, on infant colic, that the BCA cited weak evidence in its favour, while ignoring strong evidence contradicting its claims. He posted the evidence and explained it. LayScience flagged up the BCA selectively quoting a Cochrane review. Every stone was turned by QuackometerAPGaylardGimpyblog,EvidenceMattersDr Petra BoyntonMinistryofTruthHolfordwatch, legal blogger Jack of Kent, and many more. At every turn they have taken the opportunity to explain a different principle of evidence based medicine – the sin of cherry-picking results, the ways a clinical trial can be unfair by design – to an engaged lay audience, with clarity as well as swagger.”

Here’s the payoff:

“a ragged band of bloggers from all walks of life has, to my mind, done a better job of subjecting an entire industry’s claims to meaningful, public, scientific scrutiny than the media, the industry itself, and even its own regulator. It’s strange this task has fallen to them, but I’m glad someone is doing it, and they do it very, very well indeed.”

Elsevier’s ‘Article of the Future’ resembles websites of the past

Elsevier, the Dutch scientific publisher, has announced details of their grandly titled Article of the Future project.  Their prototypes, published at http://beta.cell.com, are the result of what Emilie Marcus, Editor in Chief, Cell Press called,

“…a challenge to redesign from scratch how to most effectively structure and present the content of a traditional scientific article in an online environment.”

Prototypes
Several things strike me about the prototypes — and let’s bear in mind that these are prototypes, and so are likely to change based on feedback from users in the scientific community and elsewhere; but also that they are published prototypes, and so by definition are completely open for comment — the most obvious being their remarkable lack of futuristic qualities.  Instead, the prototypes resemble an enthusiastic bash at a multimedia-infused online encyclopaedia circa 1997, when multimedia was still a buzzword, or such as you might have found on a CD-ROM magazine cover mounted giveaway around the same time. Continue reading