I've never written a blog before, and despite writing being one of the things I do for a living in my job as a scientist, I'm somewhat daunted by the prospect. Part of the reason I'm daunted is that blogging is a different form of expression than I'm used to, but I imagine that most new bloggers share the same fear. Another reason, though, is that I'm starting by writing about some of my fellow scientists, whom I generally admire greatly, but who I fear exhibited some of their less desirable qualities earlier this week. What happened upset me so much that I feel I need to write something down.
A summary: on 16th August, the Channel 4 News anchor Samira Ahmed used her Twitter account (@SamiraAhmedC4) to ask for advice on how to read out a complicated formula: p(h,r)=u(h,r)-pr=g(h, Zr)+f1[h, m(o,r)]+f2[h, m(o,r)]+E-pr, adding that it's "the formula to explain how Blackpool (like Bath before it) is becoming classier."
Within a few minutes, Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre) had become involved. Most people interested in science and the media will be aware of Ben, perhaps through his regular Guardian columns or his blog, badscience.net. He somehow manages to combine a full-time job as a doctor with what must be an almost full-time hobby of challenging what he calls "dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dodgy government reports, evil pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies and quacks." The aspect of Ben's hobby that I most admire him for, because it relates most to my work as a scientist, is regularly reminding science journalists (and university PR people, and scientists) to be careful, and skeptical, and evidence-based, in the way they communicate science to the public. This is something that none of those groups of people can honestly say they do well enough often enough, and I think that Ben, and bloggers like him, should be applauded for continuing to stress its importance.