Biographical science journalism

This is a "learn by doing" project in which participants read and discuss news articles that focus on the scientists who are involved in scientific discoveries.

Introduction edit

In some cases, reporting about some science-related stories becomes heavily involved in details about specific scientists. Why do some scientists become news-worthy celebrities while other scientists are almost invisible? Do news reports about famous scientists change in time, particularly after their death? What processes determine if a story about a scientist is "newsworthy"?

Case studies edit

Carl Sagan edit

Carl Sagan and Immanuel Velikovsky. Carl Sagan was heavily involved in Planetary science, particularly the use space craft to collect data from planets such as Venus and Mars. Sagan worked to educate non-scientists about how science is done and why everyone should be skeptical about extraordinary claims such as those made by Velikovsky in his 1950 book "Worlds in Collision". After its publication, the New York Times listed "Worlds in Collision" for many weeks as a non-fiction bestseller. Astronomers such as Sagan dismissed Velikovsky's work as non-scientific guess work and an attempt to construct an astronomical basis for ancient myths.

By the time of the Mariner 2 mission (1962), attempts were being made by scientists such as Sagan to use observations from space craft to study the atmosphere of Venus and understand the basis of the greenhouse effect on Venus. Science Journalists misunderstood one of the Mariner mission scientists and published stories saying that the atmosphere of Venus contains hydrocarbons that contribute to the greenhouse effect. Some followers of Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision" felt that NASA's scientific observations of Venus had found supporting evidence for one of Velikovsky's claims about the planet Venus, which Velikovsky claimed originated as a comet ejected from Jupiter several thousand years ago. Scientists such as Sagan had to speak up in order to correct the record, as described in the later editions of Sagan's book, "Broca's Brain".

Exercises and discussion edit

Usenet and other forum discussions have noted the claim that in several instances, raw data involved in phenomena bearing on Velikovsky's theories actually support Velikovsky but that by the time the stories are published, there are invariably explanations of how the experiments in question must have failed, and the data published is that which would have coincided with standard theories since those are always assumed to be correct. The most major such case is the question of albedo (reflectivity) values for Venus as described in an article by F.W. Taylor of the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford in an article on "VENUS", Hunton, Colin, Donahue, Moroz, Univ. of Ariz. Press, 1983, ISBN 0-8165-0788-0. Taylor notes that the observed albedo value of .080 would require the planet to be massively out of thermal balance (as Velikovsky predicted) and that, therefore the value .076 which would produce thermal balance, required by the conventional theory for explaining the surface temperature of the planet, is the "most probable value"

Other such phenomena include ancient motion charts for the planet Venus, and infrared flux measurements associated with the Pioneer Venus mission.

  • Was the 1983 book talking about Bond albedo as shown in this table? Are you saying that a difference between 0.08 and 0.076 supports the claim that Venus is of recent origin? --JWSchmidt 04:08, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

Linus Pauling edit

Francis Crick edit

Stephen Hawking edit

Francis Collins edit

E. O. Wilson edit