Positive news

By Grant Jacobs 12/01/2011

A brief spot of ruminating on science writing late at night.

Thinking over points of difference between main-stream media (MSM) and science writing, one occurred to me:* science writing is more often positive.

It’s common complaint I hear from relatives and friends, that the MSM is all doom’n’gloom. I’ve no doubt that a closer look would show that’s not entirely fair, but the headlines and features are certainly dominated by disasters and tragedies.

Source: xkcd.com
Source: xkcd.com

By contrast headlines and features in science writing more often–even most often–favour positive news. Advances in medicine. New findings in science.

Disasters and tragedy bring out empathy.

Right now I’m seeing a lot about the floods in eastern Australia. New Zealand has had it’s share in the Pike River mine disaster and the September 4th earthquake close to my hometown.** Likewise environmental issues can be distressingly bleak. Science writing initiated by these events brings a depth of understanding that MSM can miss, but you can’t get away from the depressing nature of the event itself.

Science writing in the form of blogging certainly has it’s rallies against the madness, such as my own posts on homeopathy, the Wakesfield saga, chiropractic, among other things.

Leaving these aside, I’m thinking that science writing, especially that written on it’s own initiative,*** often has a more positive outlook.

Try a quick skim of scienceblogging.org (ignoring the meta-blogging about blogging and the practice of science itself!) or any of the major popular science magazines, or science sections in the major newspapers. Compare that with the international headlines.

Readers would point out that other beats are largely positive too, or at least not dominantly about negative events. Fair enough.

Either way, I wonder if one of the appeals of science writing is simply that readers tire of the endless disasters and tragedies? That they want something positive, something not cliched, more than a string of clever-but-empty sound bites, or about some Hollywood actor or actresses latest mini-drama.

Bring on the positive stories.


* Anecdotally, I’m not holding up any statistics here.

** I experienced a little of the latter first-hand on Boxing Day, being in an inner-city store when the M=4.9 after shock struck.

*** That is, not lead by some non-scientific event.

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