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The decline of serious science coverage in primary news media – and what that trend means for our future – was thoughtfully covered in an August 17 article in The Nation magazine entitled “Unpopular Science” by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. (see: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090817/mooney_kirshenbaum)

Good science coverage should report on immediate topics such as the spread of flu and medical discoveries for better health. It should also cover solid science news about climate change, technology advancement, and energy developments, because the public must understand facts about subjects like these in order to shape national policy and make informed judgments. To avoid accepting news straight off of a press release, we need reporters with the experience and specialized knowledge to separate important facts from “fluff.”

Mooney and Kirshenbaum point out that the decline in the number and size of newspapers has triggered cuts in knowledgeable science reporting. And in television, the proliferation of cable news channels has meant that the major broadcast networks have less of a captive audience and fewer financial resources to cover serious science topic in depth.

They write:

From 1989 to 2005, the number of US papers featuring weekly science-related sections shrank from ninety-five to thirty-four. Many of the remaining sections shifted to softer health, fitness and “news you can use” coverage, reflecting the apparent judgment that more thorough science or science policy coverage just doesn’t support itself economically. And the problem isn’t confined to newspapers. Just one minute out of every 300 on cable news is devoted to science and technology, or one-third of 1 percent. Late last year CNN cut its entire science, space and technology unit.”

The overall result is that, although there is a great deal of science information available online, we must search for it and use our own critical thinking abilities to discern what is important to know and what is today’s fad. Learning basic science concepts and how they apply to our daily life is an important step toward making sense of science “news’ in the future. Learning critical thinking skills and the discipline of the scientific method for determining facts will serve non-scientists as well as scientists throughout life.

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