The Use and Abuse of the

Editor's Note: In this essay, the authors--both scientists and writers--discuss recent science news stories and express their opinions on how the stories were handled by the media, as well as how scientists and journalists deal with each other. In this issue of The Scientist, we also have two other features on communicating science: Commentary on page 8 and Opinion on page 9. The "B" word--breakthrough--divides scientists and journalists as no other. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather invoke it regula

Barry Palevitz and Ricki Lewis
Jul 19, 1998

 

Editor's Note: In this essay, the authors--both scientists and writers--discuss recent science news stories and express their opinions on how the stories were handled by the media, as well as how scientists and journalists deal with each other. In this issue of The Scientist, we also have two other features on communicating science: Commentary on page 8 and Opinion on page 9.
The "B" word--breakthrough--divides scientists and journalists as no other. Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather invoke it regularly; print journalists use it all the time. Yet, at the frontier between science and journalism, where the public finds out about the latest discoveries, no word better signifies the crosscurrents and undertows that can sink the communication process. And none better reveals the cultural divide that separates the two professions.

Is the B word abused, to the extent that its impact is diluted? To answer that question, Cold...