Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?

A certain Virginia Heffernan (not known for being a zealot about great accuracy) published a piece in the New York Times Magazine section that is probably the very worst ever written about, about science blogging, about blogging in general, about science, and about journalism – Unnatural Science.

Not much to say there – fisking line-by-line would be a useless pursuit and would take too much time.

Brief summary: society is suffering because science is taking over and fuzzy thinking is in retreat; = science blogs, but she wouldn’t know since she doesn’t read them (but can write about them nonetheless); bloggers are mean, especially to the poor innocent religious types; peak oil is not a serious problem; a few misquotes; an open admission that she does not care about journalistic ethics very much; suggested readings: Derrida and the biggest climate change denialist blog. ‘Nuff said.

But if you want to read more, check out excellent responses by Zen Faulkes, Jason Goldman, Scott Rosenberg, P.Z. Myers and David Dobbs. Update: Also see commentary by Chad Orzel, Tim Lambert, ERV, Daniel Lende, T. Ryan Gregory, John Wilkins, Dave Wescott, Mike the Mad Biologist, Paul Raeburn, Dave Winer, Steve Mount, Joe Romm, Kathy Gill, Cheryl Rofer, Sharon Astyk and David Orr. Update 2: Also Andrew Sullivan, Jamie Vernon, David Wescott, Zen Faulkes, Chad Orzel, Jason Rosenhouse, gfish and Brian Switek.


27 responses to “Is this something that NYTimes editors proudly allowed to get published?

  1. Yep! That about sums it up.

  2. You left out that the Sciblings who decamped are a bunch of crybabies who would never hack it in the world of real journalism.

  3. LOL, define “real” and define “journalism”… but try to do that while limited to HER understanding of the world 😉

  4. Bora, what evidence is there that she understands the world in any sense?

  5. Sounds like she’s aiming for a Huffington Post gig.

  6. Heffernan tells us to “steer clear of polarizing hatefests like atheist or eco-apocalypse blogs” and then directs us to Discover Magazine’s web site . . . where Sean Carroll has openly advocated atheism and Phil Plait mocks climate-change deniers on a pretty regular basis.


    Yes, Virginia, you need a clue transfusion.

  7. Apparently, this awful article will be printed on paper for which trees died. Which means that many people will read this and never think to go online to check the reactions. I guess we need to have a lot of Letters To The Editor written and sent….

  8. Phil Plait mocks climate-change deniers on a pretty regular basis.

    Imagine what’d happen is she were to see his opinions on vaccinations.

    Perhaps she meant Discovery Channel, while she in reality(?) mixed it up with The History{sic} Channel.

  9. “….Oxbridge-style showdowns that let them use words like “claptrap” and “gibberish.” ” Oh my. Those are really hurtful words. I can see why literary critics (who never use words like that) would shy away from criticizing science when such painful words are being thrown around…

    Actually I wouldn’t worry too much about the dead-tree readers finding this persuasive. First, it’s badly written. Second, the argument that it’s not OK to withdraw your labor when you don’t agree with the actions of the organization employing you is patently stupid. Third, it was Pepsi blogging on nutrition. Duh. And fourth, nobody who doesn’t read blogs will find the article interesting.

    I think the part I like most is the simultaneous implication that the SciBlings were childish to leave ScienceBlogs on a matter of principle, and that ScienceBlogs was a corrupt influence on the world because the SciBlings were — shorn of the name-calling — insufficiently principled. Nice.

  10. Send a Letter to the Editor

    Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y., 10018. The e-mail address is: All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

  11. Romeo Vitelli said
    “Sounds like she’s aiming for a Huffington Post gig.”

    The Huffington Post is a left wing rag and is home to many of the “eco-apocalypse blogs” that she so hates. I can’t imagine an AGW denier like her blogging on the HuffPo, nor would she be welcome there. No, this column looks more like an audition for a Drudge Report gig to me.

  12. Did… did Virginia come by and *thumbs-down* all the comments…?


  13. I think ERV nailed it! lol

    More likely she is looking for a faux news gig. She would fit right in as the faux news science reporter.

  14. Pingback: Virginia Heffernan vs. ScienceBlogs « Neuroanthropology

  15. I wanted to suggest that, in addition to letters to the editor, this also seems to be relevant to alert the NY Times Public Editor. I haven’t figured out exactly what I’d say, but even for a light, observational/opinion piece in the NY Times Magazine, it’s full of selective reporting and selective quotations. That’s the type of thing that, with enough prodding the public editor can highlight much more than a few published letters to the editor.

    They’ve just transitioned to a new public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, so I don’t know what will not attract his attention, but it’s worth a shot.
    Phone: (212) 556-7652

  16. sorry folks, welcome to the real world. People don’t take the time to get the facts right, they tend to make outrageous generalizations, and they basically do everything wrong – unless they know you. And they’re not going to go out of their way to know you.

    If you care what others say about you, you have to make the first move. And the second. And probably the third. If you don’t care what others say about you, then you can tell them to go screw themselves and it doesn’t matter.

    It’s just the way communications and diplomacy works. It’s not fair, but it is the way it works.

  17. Pingback: Best of July « A Blog Around The Clock

  18. Pingback: WashPost/NY Times: To Subscribe or Unsubscribe, that is the question.

  19. Marion Delgado

    You should retract this. Virginia did her due diligence. I have it on good authority that she asked 3 friends about scienceblogs. Normally, she only asks 2 friends before she writes a column.

    Clearly, this is an atheist eco-apocalypse blog, and you are never going to cure cancer by blogging.

  20. LOL! But really, she can be educated, methinks, and she will meet with some science bloggers and writers up in NYC soon to discuss this.

  21. Pingback: The PepsiGate linkfest « A Blog Around The Clock

  22. Pingback: there’s a reason we call it a target audience… « weird things

  23. I find it hard to see how this could have been a “teachable moment”. Just because somebody has “no science background” doesn’t mean they’re a blank slate; funnily enough, the “educated” are not necessarily educable. Is a person who has been poisoned by fashionable nonsense — or, to use the technical term, sophomoric trendoid brainspooge — really any better a conversational partner than a professional creationist?

  24. Pingback: Branding Science Blogging: Cooperatives + Corporate Networks | A Blog Around The Clock

  25. Pingback: 2010 in review | A Blog Around The Clock