Posted tagged ‘Science Journalism’

Move Along Folks: Conservative rags edition

August 28, 2008

There is nothing to see here….

That is:  I did something I do for the kind of sick thrill you get passing a wreck on the highway — checking out Megan McCardle’s self parody of a blog over at The Atlantic Monthly’s site. (the lack of link is deliberate; I don’t like to link to things I don’t recommend.  If you are curious, there is this thing called Google that can probably get you where you want to go.)

There I find she recommends, in near ecstatic terms a new site called Culture 11,* (huh?) promoted as a conservative version of Slate, which launched yesterday. ( McCardle’s praise –“Full disclosure:  I’m fairly close to its editorial staff.  Fuller disclosure:  it’s still pretty awesome.” — gives you a bit of a sense of why I am loathe to send the unwary over to wallow in such prose.)

So, in the John Cole school of reading this stuff so you don’t have to, I actually went over to check out this new haven of thought and letters.  There, I searched every last article they have up so far, all twenty seven as of the time of writing this.  There were some notable howlers — see Conor Friedersdorf’s Electric Kool-Aid Conservatism for a hilarious account of, among other things, the dilemma of a conservative on a blind date confronted by a woman who may or may not accept “basic conservative and libertarian truths.”

(Again: fair warning.  Leave aside the argument such as it is.  You have to be willing to stomach sentences like “As a dating dilemma, this is easily solved.  Ask her questions!”  There.  Proceed at your own risk.  Tom Wolfe, conservative though he surely is, knows style and its absence.  He would equally surely wince at the asserted claim of kinship.)

And so on…but really, the point of this post is not simply that someone, somewhere is saying something stupid on the internet.  Rather, it is to point out one reason why conservative claims of intellectual authority have worn so thin.

They ignore science.  There is no science at Culture 11 at all.  Not as a category; not squeezed into headings like “Education” or “Ideas.”  The one article under the heading “Technology” provides an interesting brief against the privatization of city services, but basically includes no actual explanation of the technological problem under review — how to design and build a city-provided wifi network.

Other than that, nothing.  And it’s not that there is a dearth of science and public life stories of interest within the context of conservative politics, after all.  Just today, the Republican National Convention platform committee published their document, which calls for a complete ban on embryonic stem cell research.  That might be worth a comment, no?

How about the argument between the parties about the appropriate resource and technological response to the problem of the US energy mix and supply?

What about some hard thinking about the numbers behind and the moral values inherent in the McCain campaign’s health policy advisor’s statement that the emergency room counts as insurance for the uninsured?

I am not suggesting that I expect anyone from that side of aisle to write stuff I agree with.  I’m not even expecting them to make good cases for the points of view I’m guessing they’ll adopt.  But these are in fact big, obvious issues that matter not just to a scientific community, but to the public at large in the midst of deciding who should be our next president.

And yet, the entire site is designed, at least for now, to suggest that questions with a scientific or technical core don’t rise to the level of significance worthy of a conservative intelligentsia’s attention.  By contrast, Slate has a whole section devoted to health and science, two editors devoted to the care and feeding of that section and about a post a day, sometimes more, to keep the site populated.  I’m not saying I love all their stuff (though when they publish a former student, I do).  But they cover the story; they do so in an opinionated way, writing as public intellectuals. They take this stuff seriously.

I suppose I am picking on a brand new publication, the brain child of a plucky band of brothers (of both genders) rushing into the breach of the defenses of the liberal media.  But it still seems to me both striking and telling that a set of would-be leaders of right-wing public intellectualism would find nothing in science to engage.

I do not think that they achieve such lofty unconcern simply because doing science is hard, though it is, nor that writing well about science is hard, for all that I have scars to remind me that just how hard.

Rather, it is because, IMHO of course, in the broadest sense, it is much harder to spin science than it is, say, the consequences of impotent bellicosity over Georgia.

To put it another way, one near and dear to Boston Celtics fans:  I think the right dodges science when it can because it can’t handle the truth.

You may take all this as the official announcement, rather than the earlier leaks, that Inverse Square is back from vacation.

*This link provided because even though I think the site is basically worthless, it seems to me hard to write a post about a web-location without pointing to it.  A foolish consistency and all that…

Program Notes: New York Times on the Hardest Job in Science…

August 24, 2008

Or at least in the top ten: Check out this story on someone who sounds like a fantastic teacher of high school biology in Florida, doing his best to put evolution all the way back into the curriculum.

I’ve no doubt that the science blogosphere will pick up on this piece, and it should. But as someone who has taken a fair share of potshots at the Times and some of its writers lately, I thought it was dead down the middle of the “credit where credit is due” imperative to note that the paper and reporter Amy Harmon did a fine job here.

Image: Henri Rousseau, “Fight Between a Tiger and a Buffalo” 1908. Source: Wikimedia Commons.