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A Physicist Offers His Prescription For Improved Science News Coverage

When the "fifth force" burst upon the scientific scene in January of 1986, its arrival was noted with great fanfare by the nation's news media. "Hints of Fifth Force in Universe Challenge Galileo's Findings," proclaimed the New York Times the day after the discovery was announced in the journal Physical Review Letters. (56:3, Jan. 6, 1986). But when the force was pronounced all but dead almost four years later at a December 1989 conference in Les Arcs, France, no reporter was present to note it

Clifford Will

When the "fifth force" burst upon the scientific scene in January of 1986, its arrival was noted with great fanfare by the nation's news media. "Hints of Fifth Force in Universe Challenge Galileo's Findings," proclaimed the New York Times the day after the discovery was announced in the journal Physical Review Letters. (56:3, Jan. 6, 1986). But when the force was pronounced all but dead almost four years later at a December 1989 conference in Les Arcs, France, no reporter was present to note its lonely passing, and you are unlikely to find its obituary in your morning paper. The demise of the fifth force turned out to be as important an advance for physics as was its birth, yet the headlines have failed to materialize.

Understandably, a scientific discovery that challenges conventional wisdom is more newsworthy than the finding that the establishment was right after all, and science reporting...

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