Viewing: Expert Tips and Best Practices
- How Science Works
- Sources and Experts: Where to Find Them and How to Vet Them
- Making Sense of Science Stats
- Editing for Story
- Editing Controversial Science
- Holding Science to Account
- Covering Health Care
- Climate and the Environment
- Fact-Checking Science Journalism: How to Make Sure Your Stories Are True
Illustrating Complex Science Stories
- The Role of Visuals in Science Journalism
- The Process of Building Science-Centric Graphics
- Strategies for Using Visuals to Put Breaking Science in Context
- Special Considerations for Data Visualization
- Uncertainty and Misinformation
- Editorial Illustration, Photography, and Moving Images
- Additional Reading and Resources
- About the Author
- Social Media and Reader Engagement
- Popular Science
- Op-Eds and Essays
- About This Handbook
Expert Tips and Best Practices
By Apoorva Mandavilli / 2 minute read
The following advice comes from the science journalists Emily Anthes, Caroline Chen, Laura Helmuth, Roxanne Khamsi, Ivan Oransky, and Ed Yong.
- Don’t rely on press releases for story ideas; they are intended to promote, not to inform.
- If you do use press releases, never presume that everything in them is accurate or complete.
- Read the paper, not just the press release. You’ll be amazed how often the two bear no resemblance to each other in content or claims.
- Be wary of claims that the findings represent a “revolution,” “breakthrough,” or “paradigm shift.” Science rarely works like that.
- Read the paper multiple times because, with every pass, you’re going to deepen your understanding and catch new things.
- Read the authors’ description of funding sources and conflicts of interest. Ask them about their funding when you interview them.
- Google it! Have other studies been published on this topic? Have these scientists ever made bold or unwarranted claims to the press? Is this field controversial?
- Poke around in PubMed with keywords from the paper. The most recent similar study can help determine whether the new study is too incremental to cover.
- Know the difference between correlation and causation, and whether the study’s design supports its findings.
- Narrate your findings back to your sources by saying, for example, “Here’s how I’d summarize your study: …. Does this sound right to you?”
- Mine the references in the paper to find sources for comment or background reading.
- For medical studies, know that the best trials have a control group, and that neither the scientists nor the participants know who received the drug and who received the control.
- Take a statistics class. Cultivate statisticians as sources you can turn to in a pinch.
- Do your own peer review. Build relationships with scientists who will give you quick takes on whether a paper is worth covering and what it adds to the field.
- No question is too small or dumb.