Any advice to medical/science journalism students on interfacing with science & medical blogs?

I am about to lead a discussion of science and medical blogs with a group of journalism students in a course entitled, Medical Journalism. While many of the students are specifically majoring in medical and science journalism in a master’s program, some are undergraduates in general journalism and mass communications looking to get a flavor for medical writing for print and broadcast.
My question to the valued readers of this humble blog is:

What would you tell these young, knowledge-seeking minds about how science and medical blogs and bloggers might contribute to their future careers as “conventional” journalists?

For example, I have been a big proponent of journalists seeking the input of science bloggers when writing articles pitched via press releases from journals or research institutions. Many bloggers are practicing scientists, physicians, physician-scientists and other allied health professionals who
1. possess highly-specialized expertise
2. demonstrate the ability and desire to communicate complex science and medical information to broad, less-specialized or lay audiences
3. are far more likely to respond to media requests promptly (i.e., on deadline) than the average “big-name” expert source pitched by medical center news service offices.
As a scientist-blogger, I have been fortunate to develop a somewhat scholarly reputation in journalism not because of any formal journalism training, but rather that journalists with online savvy keep tabs on my posts and have developed professional relationships with me.
My guess is that wise sci/med journalists keep a cadre of RSS feeds in their news aggregators from science bloggers so they can get well-parsed information and commentary whenever a major story breaks. I view this as a symbiotic relationship because the vast majority of sci/med bloggers want to share their knowledge without any desire for competing with journalists for jobs, a concern I sometimes hear from professional writers.
So what advice do you have for journalism students or practicing journalists on how to interface with science and medical bloggers?

Wishing Stetson Kennedy a Happy 92nd Birthday

stetson%20small.jpgThe author, human rights activist, folklorist, and environmentalist, Stetson Kennedy, is celebrating his 92nd birthday today in the company of friends and family near St. Augustine, Florida.
His website,, used to have a guestbook but the webmaster, his grandson Sean, took it down after extensive spamming.
So, please leave your birthday wishes in the comments below as we have it on very good authority that those close to Stetson actually read Terra Sigillata.
Much of my generation probably only knows Stetson Kennedy as the Klan-busting infiltrator popularized in Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and economist Steven Levitt. Music fans may know of him from the eponymous lyrics penned by Woody Guthrie and put to music by Billy Bragg with Wilco on 2000’s Mermaid Avenue, Vol.II.

Kennedy is best-known for his undercover infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan in and around Atlanta during the 1940s. While he has been criticized for co-opting the stories of some compatriots as his own, there is no doubt that Kennedy risked his life in feeding Klan identities and codewords to the public, some of which were aired in four episodes of the Superman radio program. Kennedy was exiled to France when the Klan put a bounty on his head.
To urge federal action on the Klan, Kennedy appeared in 1948 (and was escorted out of) the US House Committee on Un-American Activities at the US Capitol wearing a KKK hood and robe while carrying a briefcase full of documents to raise awareness of the role of prominent leaders and regional officials in organized racial terrorism. (There is no truth to the rumor that some officials were unfazed and simply said, “Why, Senator Byrd, what brings you over to the House today?,” as the West Virginia senator did not take office until 1959).

Continue reading

Love and condolences to Orac and Mrs Orac

While I threaten to come back to real blogging, let me direct you to Orac’s recent post on the loss of their family dog, Echo – the dog who ate corn off the cob (YouTube evidence therein).
Orac is a great writer but a lot of you know him mostly from his expertise in cancer medicine and in decrying all kids of pseudoscience. He may also seem on the surface to be a tough, unflappable medical professional, as one might expect from any high-powered academic surgeon.
However, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Orac personally and will divulge that he is really a sweetheart of a guy. And as you will see from his post, he is a fabulous writer regardless of the genre.
For those of you who understand how a dog can become a “person of fur,” you will recognize the depth of the loss being experienced by Orac and his wife. I offer them the condolences of the Pharmboy family and the hope that their honor and memory of Echo bring them comfort.

StoryCorps producer responds to NPR exploding bra doubts

Well, you readers here really know how to draw attention to an issue. We’re not a high-traffic blog but those of you who read regularly are quite thoughtful, insightful, and, now, influential.
Our little post the other day on the application of the ideal gas law in discussing the NPR/StoryCorps segment on the exploding bra of a now-94-year-old woman caught the attention of StoryCorps Senior Producer, Michael Garofalo. Mr Garofalo wished to respond to our post and several commenters who noted that the exploding bra story was the stuff of urban legend, such that traced back to a 1958 Reader’s Digest story the original description of an inflatable bra exploding in an unpressurized airplane cabin.
I’m a huge fan of the StoryCorps project and, dating back to my meeting with civil rights legend, author, and folklorist, Stetson Kennedy, I’m also an admirer of those amateurs and scholars who document and disseminate folk stories, music, customs, and culture.
So it was delightful to hear back from Mr Garofalo in response to our blog post – after contacting me, I asked for an received his permission to reprint his e-mail below on the background and vetting of Ms Jenkins’ story:

Continue reading

Jonathan Alter on the lessons from Ted Kennedy and Hamilton Jordan

While I tend to off-blog responsibilities, you may be interested to read this lovely essay by Jonathan Alter in the current (2 June) issue of Newsweek entitled, “How We Really Help Ted.”

There was a time when mentioning Kennedy and Jimmy Carter (or Carter’s right hand) in the same breath would have meant a story about a Democratic family feud even more bitter than this year’s between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But today these men offer priceless lessons in how to overcome endless adversity and deep unpopularity and go on to lead redemptive and joyful lives that touch millions. Their example might also get us into a new war we desperately need–a war to save the more than 500,000 Americans who die every year of cancer.

Continue reading

NY Times Ends Pay for Premium Content

This e-mail just came in overnight – a great move by the New York Times:

Dear TimesSelect Subscriber,
We are ending TimesSelect, effective today.
The Times’s Op-Ed and news columns are now available to everyone free of charge, along with Times File and News Tracker. In addition, The New York Times online Archive is now free back to 1987 for all of our readers.
Why the change?
Since we launched TimesSelect, the Web has evolved into an increasingly open environment. Readers find more news in a greater number of places and interact with it in more meaningful ways. This decision enhances the free flow of New York Times reporting and analysis around the world. It will enable everyone, everywhere to read our news and opinion – as well as to share it, link to it and comment on it.
We thank you for your support of TimesSelect, and hope you continue to enjoy The New York Times in all its electronic and print forms.
For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions, click here:
To contact Customer Service, please send an e-mail to
Vivian Schiller
Senior Vice President & General Manager

National Toast to Michael Jackson to Benefit Parkinson’s Disease Research

As I noted last evening, the world of beer and spirits is mourning the loss of British writer and libation enthusiast, Michael Jackson. Jackson was suffering from Parkinson’s disease but succumbed to a heart attack earlier this week at age 65.
Jackson’s Beer Hunter website/blog notes that a national toast to Jackson will be held on 30 September, with all proceeds to benefit the US National Parkinson Foundation. Stan Hieronymus writes:

If you know a brewpub, bar, tavern, ale house, tap house, multi-tap or similar establishment that might participate urge them to do so. Information will be posted at the Beer Hunter website when plans are finalized, participants will be able to register their site and download a poster, and drinkers will find a list of toast sites.

Of course, Mr Jackson belonged to the world so I suspect that similar events will pop up outside the US as well.

Continue reading