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The Guardian is reporting on a recent change to the BBC’s editorial policy that calls for links to primary research from their online science articles. Without intending an I-told-you-so, this is something I’ve been doing since I started blogging, and I am thrilled that mainstream journalists are starting to do the same thing. There are tons of reasons why it’s a great idea, but these are my big three:

  1. The decision to avoid linking to hard science is based on the assumption that the “general public” lacks the patience, intelligence, and/or education to read primary science and interpret it for themselves. I don’t think this is true, and especially not amongst online consumers of news.
  2. Although many scientific articles are still behind paywalls, paper abstracts and supporting information (which often contains all the juicy experimental how-to) are commonly available for free. This information in and of itself is often enough to make intelligent decisions about what conclusions can and cannot be reasonably drawn. Plus, more readers clicking through to primary sources means more pressure on scientific publishers to make fulltexts available, which brings us that much closer to true open access to the scientific literature.
  3. The possibility of very large online audiences for primary scientific writing may encourage scientists to write more accessibly, which is better for professional scientists and citizen scientists alike.

So, in short: Hear, hear! If you’ve got a blog that covers science, please consider taking the time to run down primary research links online. It’s not hard to do once you get the hang of it, and it will only get easier as the trend spreads.

[via Geekosystem]

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I write for MAKE, serve as Technical Editor for MAKE magazine, and develop original DIY content for Make: Projects.


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Comments

  1. Alan says:

    That’s great news. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, too, but it’s not entirely fair to blame the news outlets for it. The press releases sent out by university and corporate PR folks are the usual starting points for most mainstream science stories. Unfortunately, those releases commonly lack any direct link or citation for the original article, so it often takes more than a casual effort to find the paper.

    That said, reporters should be willing to put in a few minutes’ time when it comes to such a fundamental fact-checking task. The original paper usually contains fascinating nuances and important caveats that never make it into the press release.

  2. pff says:

    I gather a different message by reading the article than what you seem to be suggesting.
    Your post suggests to me that the BBC are encouraging linking to sources of written articles, while i gather from the guidelines is that links to articles should lead directly to the articles instead of to the homepage of the author or institute.
    furthermore i see no specific target of science articles, i think you made that bit up.

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/38963534/BBC-guidelines-for-linking-%E2%80%93-Sept-2010

      From which:

      “In news stories inline links must go to primary sources only; e.g. scientific
      journal article or policy report”

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