Science Journalism: colorful prose or actual science?

I’ve been accused of bagging on science journalists.  I’ve had my beef before (here and here).  When I bring up how often science journalists fail to get the science right or fail to frame the science correctly, I usually get one of two responses: 1) Scientists can’t write for the lay public, so shut up loser; and 2) People don’t really care about the science, they just want to read about pretty and interesting things.

Chris Wilson has a great article up on Slate, “Why can’t science journalists just tell it like it is when it comes to particle physics?”  Arguably, particle physics could be replaced with any scientific field, but given the press that the LHC has been receiving this is as good as any field to pick on.  The basic thesis of Wilson’s argument is thus:

The color provided by this sort of extravagant prose comes at a cost. It may make for a richer read, but to decorate the science with ornate wordplay has a way of obscuring the very ideas those words are supposed to highlight.

I particularly like this ender:

On the whole, the best writing about physics for a general audience seems to come from physicists, not journalists. […] Journalists writing popular treatments of subatomic physics could take a lesson from the scientists: Tell it straight and have a little faith that the subject matter itself—a major advance in our understanding of the cosmos—can generate its own wonder and excitement.

What do you think? Go read it!

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: