You Can't Hold the Presses as Science Sorts Itself Out

Article excerpt

"Journalism is the first draft of history," said the Washington Post's Philip Graham. "Journalism is literature in a hurry," wrote the poet Matthew Arnold. Science News, then, must be the first draft of science history, in a hurry.

That "hurry" part is one of the things that makes science journalism different from science. Science does not share journalism's emphasis on speed. It is more like wine, slowly maturing over time as evidence is collected, analyzed, debated and modified by even more evidence that often instigates even more arguments. As the history of science illustrates, it often takes years or decades for new science to establish itself.

Consequently Science News should be read as something like a rough draft of the history of science, subject to revision. No single issue delivers the final word on anything. In the October 23 issue, for example, we reported on the discovery of a planet orbiting within the habitable zone around the red dwarf star Gliese 581. Temperatures on that planet would permit water to exist in liquid form. Scientists therefore quickly began debating the likelihood that the planet, Gliese 581g, might harbor living organisms.

Soon thereafter, scientists also began debating whether the planet itself is even there in the first place. …