The Trouble With Science Journalism

One of the great frustrations of science journalism is its tendency to sensationalize every small advance into a worldview shattering revolution. As a case in point, consider this article, from the current issue of New Scientist magazine.

The magazine’s cover depicts a plush, green tree bearing the words “Darwin Was Wrong.” As P.Z. Myers has noted, it is an annoying sign of creationist influence that revisions in a 150 year old theory are considered cover-worthy. Larry Moran makes a similar point in this post.

Things get worse, oh so much worse, when you read the awful article itself. Never have you seen a science writer try so hard to make so big a deal from such meager materials. It turns out the breathaking news is that horizontal gene transfer among single-celled organisms means that the tree metaphor of evolution does not work so well for the earliest stages of life’s history. The article does point to a few reasons why the tree metaphor may be problematic for certain aspects of plant and animal evolution as well, but this too is mostly familiar stuff.

Over at EvolutionBlog I offer some further thoughts on all that is wrong with this article. Comments can be left there.