Darwinius masillae: Is The Hype a Bigger Story than the Science?
Matthew C. Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Public Policy, and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University. Nisbet studies the role of communication and advocacy in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over over climate change, energy, and sustainability. Among awards and recognition, Nisbet has been a Visiting Shorenstein Fellow on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a Google Science Communication Fellow. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism."
It started this morning with the front page story at the NY Times. Tellingly, the article wasn't hooked around Darwinius masillae as a historic scientific breakthrough but rather as a novel ramping up in communication strategy for science. Now across the blogosphere, the tag of hype has caught on to Darwinius masillae, just notice these google results.
It's difficult to find fault with the criticism given that the architects of the media blitz are using trigger words like "missing link," "the eighth wonder of the world," and "an asteroid falling down to Earth" in the world of Paleontology. Just take a look at this Sky TV report linked to by Drudge, who headlined the discovery for most of the day.
One important thing: Already I am noticing an all too common tendency among science bloggers to blame the media and journalists for the hype. Sorry guys. If the "hype" label is accurate, this one started with the scientific team and the sponsoring organizations, who supplied the language, the imagery, and the roll out.
Don't get me wrong, I love the innovative strategy, it's just that as I blogged earlier today, it might not be appropriately used around a single study, and best applied to a body of knowledge and scientific subject generally. Indeed, in this case, the strategy might be larger than the science.
For more on the hype angle, see Charlie Petit at Knight Science Tracker and Curtis Brainard at the Columbia Journalism Review. [Daniel Boorstein might go so far to call this a pseudo-event.]
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