Dear Mass Media Covering Science (BBC, CNN, etc):
I need some help. I often get emailed or tweets from readers, saying “hey! look at this article! Isn’t it cool/weird?! You should cover it!” I see the article. It is indeed very cool and weird. I’m all up ons. Except for one problem:
What, exactly, was the paper you were covering?
If you’re going to cover science, real science, happening now, it’s not enough just to know that “researchers” have published in “the Journal of Sexual Medicine”. It’s not a very small journal. There’s not an exact date. It could have been any one of the last 40 articles published. I’m sure you think the topic “the g-spot” narrows it down. But it doesn’t. It’s the JOURNAL OF SEXUAL MEDICINE. At least half of the articles are on orgasm, and a good 70% of those are in women.
And then of course, who are these “researchers”? There was so much “controversy” over the topic in question that I actually had a great deal of trouble figuring out WHO the lead author was. It was buried at the end of a quote on one side of the page. At first, I thought the majority of quotes were from the lead author, but in fact they were from the lead author who disagreed with the study. And in many previous articles that I have seen, the names of the authors were not mentioned at ALL. Sometimes the journal is simple “will be published soon”. The title of the actual study is never mentioned.
It’s not like this is hard. This is, after all, the internet. This means there are things called “links”. All you need is one link to, say, the journal in question and the abstract of the article. Or perhaps maybe a *gasp* citation at the bottom the article. Just something so I can find out where I need to go to get the science behind the headline.
Sci would also like to point out that what we have here is a problem with “citing your sources”. This is something that, I believe, most people learn how to do in high school, or failing that, college (my professor mother tells me she has to teach a lot of it in college). I assume that the vast majority of the people working for your respected news source have college degrees. Presumably they have been exposed to things like the MLA handbook. Thus, they know that citing things is important. It’s also, due to the glory of the internet, very, very easy.
There are many reasons why not citing your sources is a bad habit. First, people need to know where the research is coming from. A lot of US funded research, for example, is free online. Sure, it might be really complicated to read, but everyone should be able to look at the paper, or at least the abstract (which is usually available). If you don’t provide those links, people have to rely on what YOU write, which often is more of a teaser than the real deal, and can sometimes not be the whole story. You want people to get the whole story, don’t you?
Second: if you’re just writing about “researchers” at a large institution, with no real names given, and no citations, how do we know how good the journal was, how reliable the research IS, and whether or not to TRUST it? Trumpeting a headline to the skies often results in people getting the wrong point out of your article. If we don’t have a link or information on the source, it’s hard to know whether the science is trustworthy.
And third: what if I want to BLOG about it? What if I am very concerned with the area, and want to contact the authors? And then…I don’t know who these people are, or what the article was.
So, Mass Media, please consider this. It’s a link. It’s not hard. Sci herself can teach you the html. Or, include a little blurb at the bottom of the article. Good for us, and good for you.
Filed under: Synaptic Misfires