In my home office we are boycotting CNN. Of course, my home office is a room at the back of my house occupied by myself and the family dog, a boxer named Dodger, who contributes by snoring musically while I work.
Nevertheless, we take this boycott seriously. We do not checkout the CNN website and we do not watch CNN broadcasts and our protest has spread to the adjoining room, where my husband, a fellow journalist, also now avoids the CNN for fear of being bitten (by the dog, thank you).
We abandoned the whole Cable News Network operation in the first week of December, the day after the organization announced that it was closing down its science, technology and environmental news department, firing its chief science correspondent, Miles O’Brien, six executive producers, and the rest of the science-savvy support staff.
Candidly, the boycott hasn’t been much a sacrifice. The basic news — economy, war, economy, corrupt politicians, economy — isn’t that hard to find elsewhere. But we’re standing on our principles. We will only invest our time in news operations, including the one I’m writing for now, which are smart enough to know that informed science coverage is absolutely an essential part of the news of the day.
Now, you might argue that I’m biased by the fact that I’m a career science journalist, a past president of the National Association of Science Writers, the North American board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists. If you thought that meant I had hoped to one day cover science for CNN you would be wrong — they wouldn’t hire me anyway. I’m too short and funny looking. But you would be right that I am completely, irredeemably, biased on the subject.
I believe that science and technology shape, often dramatically, the world we live in today. I also believe such fast-moving changes need to be explained – thoroughly, skeptically, beautifully – to people who don’t work with or normally follow the world of science. So that when health officials urge us to get a winter flu shot, we can evaluate our own risks and benefits. So that the connections between industrial gases and global climate change are shown with clear logic. So that that when the National Research Council announces, as it last week, that the Bush administration has failed to effectively investigate the risks of nanotechnology, we can decide whether or not to worry.
This country has owned the best science communication system in the world. I believe that we should value, maintain and improve our ability to communicate about science, not dismantle it. CNN didn’t even bother to blame its decision to close down the science department on the standard budget cut line. Instead, its spokesperson suggested that all that acquired expertise simply wasn’t needed, that since Anderson Cooper and company were producing the Planet in Peril series, “there is no need for a separate unit.”
We at the home office would really enjoy hearing Anderson Cooper explain the complicated risks associated with exposure to nanoparticles. I would wake up the dog for that, even. But until that day, or until the CNN management gets a clue about the world we live in, this office will continue to get its news elsewhere.
This piece was originally printed on the Huffington Post on 14 December 2008.