WHEREAS: Science writing has adopted the worst characteristics of the clichéd scientist: formulaic, dispassionate, disingenuously unbiased. In its excessive reverence for scientific Truth and self-imposed journalistic conventions, science writing often consists of nothing more than “Gee Whiz!” commentary on simplified results. The inevitable “scientific controversy” in these articles is too often a caricatured sham, with stuffed characters posed in bloodless conflict like a museum diorama. Like the stereotype of the scientist who alienates himself from humanity in his pursuit of scientific truth, science writers have adopted a similar pathological objectivity that preserves the truth of scientific results, but not of scientific process or scientific personalities. The aim of Litmus is to handle scientific research without rubber gloves, writing about science in a way that’s critical and irreverent, occasionally biased and overzealous, portraying scientists not as devout practitioners of a sacred field, but as participants in a difficult, ambiguous, and fascinating pursuit.
WHEREAS: Our mission is three-sided: to prod, to correct, and to praise. Beneath the sterile surface of the laboratory environment lies the dirty underbelly of the scientific process, including creaky out-of-date traditions and processes, rivalries fought through whispers and back-stabbing, and the nasty politics of academia and funding. We propose to shine a harsh light on the tired conventions of the field, to expose the systemic flaws perpetuated by loyal adherence to tradition, to confront scientific myopia, cynicism, and hypocrisy with blunt and witty language. Ridiculous journal articles, intra-field political spats, ostrich-like alienation of scientists from real-world issues, failings of the publication and educational systems…all these and more are ripe targets for intelligent but unequivocal criticism.
WHEREAS: Science is already under siege by other forces, and in these battles we will choose to play defense. Popular culture, be it in the form of books, television, or movies, frequently misinterprets the world of science, sometimes to humorous ends, sometimes with appalling and dangerous results. More distressingly, news sources considered to be reputable also err in their descriptions and interpretations of scientific topics, threatening to mislead an audience that looks to them for the unmediated facts. A confused populace often produces unfortunate consequences, thanks to the rash or short-sighted acts of ignorant or cynical politicians who may be willing to corral that confusion towards their own selfish ends. Too often the trappings of science are used by the government and corporations to wrap their agendas in a slick, false veneer of objective authority, hiding behind the reassuring symbolic distractions of lab coats and statistics. We nominate ourselves to police these inaccuracies, wielding a variety of literary weapons; from lighthearted mockery of entertainment’s scientific distortions to fiery invective against corporate or political misappropriations.
WHEREAS: While there are many sources for writing about new scientific findings of interest to a general population, many of these writings adopt a tone that condescends to the reader’s ability to process complex findings. We promise to write about science in an engaging and novel fashion that doesn’t underestimate a reader’s comprehension abilities, reporting on ways that science impacts the rest of the world in a fresh and energetic voice. Scientific topics that have been overlooked or misreported by the mainstream media will draw thorough and inventive coverage, journals will be mined for findings that are interesting, relevant, or frightening outside of the insular research world, the oft-missed humor and creativity of science will be highlighted. Scientists with something to say, either about their own work or about topics other than research itself, will be interviewed or profiled in a personal and casual manner.
WHEREAS: The site’s coverage will be written in a personable and informal style we hope will be different from the stodgy majority of science writing, less concerned with following journalistic conventions to the letter than with writing about science in a way that is creative, literary, and entertaining. A healthy deal of bias will often be present, but articles will be written in such a way as to make that bias clear, so that the reader can decide for themselves what to believe. Risks will be taken, mistakes will be made, but these are necessary side effects of discussing science in a way that doesn’t fall back within the old, safe boundaries.
We hope you will be interested in participating in our project, either through contributing writing, web or graphic design skills, or merely by reading. Please contact us at one of the following e-mail addresses to inquire further about the website or to submit pitches for article or column ideas, we’re open to any and all proposals. We hope to have our first content available by the beginning of early 2007; until then, thanks for reading about our mission at Litmus.