Monday, January 5, 2009

Heading in the Wrong Direction

We Need More, Not Less, Health and Science Reporting
I’ll add my outrage to that expressed in a recent letter from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, National Association of the Science Writers, Society of Environmental Journalists and World Federation of Science Journalists to Jim Walton, President, CNN Worldwide and Jon Klein, President, CNN/US. Just as the in-coming Obama administration signaled its commitment to bolster science and technology investment and education, CNN sacked some of its most experienced science journalists and producers.

CNN’s timing could not be worse. We are in desperate need of another science boom and greater public support will surely help propel the effort forward. Our healthcare, our environment, our energy needs and our economy all depend on it. Thirty years ago, the US ranked third among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering. Now, we stand in 17th place. And, as I wrote in Personalized Promise, only about 10 percent of the US population knows what a molecule is, about 30 percent could define DNA and, shockingly, about half know that it takes the earth one year to orbit the sun.

So, we need more interest and understanding not less. We need more people informed, more involved, more inspired. And, we need more knowledgeable professionals sifting through the growing mass of information to communicate the progress and the failures, and differentiate the facts and evidence from the frauds and junk science. We need more, not fewer, players in the effort to enhance our science literacy.

And, it’s not just straight news reporting that we need. Knowledgeable and experienced reporters bring us perspective. It’s too bad that in 2009 CNN will leave it up to others to help us celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescope and ask the questions about what new cosmic discoveries await us. Or, the 300th anniversary of Abraham Darby’s use of coke that revolutionized iron smelting and investigate what new alloys might build tomorrow’s structures. Or, the 200th anniversary of the first geologic survey in the US and its implications on the environment, mining and land management. Or, the 100th anniversary of Wilhelm Johannsen’s coining of the terms gene, genotype and phenotype that launched the language of genetics.

CNN, please reconsider. As we leave the era of anti-intellectualism behind, we should see an ever-increasing public interest in health and science, more progress and discoveries to report, and new or strengthened companies to buy advertising time on your networks.

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