Where (and How) to Read Science on the Internet

There are a lot of places to get science news on the internet, but not all of them are created equal. Today, I’d like to share some of my favorite sources. Some are informative, and others are just plain fun, but all of them will leave you feeling a bit smarter.

Facebook is probably the easiest place to get your daily science fix, because if you’re anything like me, you’re there anyway. Might as well learn something in between frantically hiding all the Republicans in your family and admiring your friends’ Instagrammed food pictures! Subscribing to the Science on Facebook list is a great start; you can browse 79 different science-related facebook pages in one place without totally overwhelming your news feed. I Fucking Love Science (or its virtually identical but swear-free twin, Science is Awesome) covers a little bit of everything, from breaking news and random trivia to cool pictures and science cartoons and memes. For more specialized interests, try the EvolutionEarth Story, or Universe pages. I love getting updates from the Pacific Whale Foundation (which admittedly includes a fair number of posts about their sight-seeing tours on Maui); they cover whale migrations, updates on international whaling law, coral reef health, and more, all with amazing photos. And no science list would be complete without the one and only Neil deGrasse Tyson. I believe he’s hit his facebook quota of friends, but you can still subscribe to his updates and see the same posts, or like his writer page for updates on his professional appearances.

Science blogs are also a fun way to learn more, as they tend to take a fairly laid-back approach. Many of them go beyond the bare facts of a new discovery to explain it in layman’s terms, tell you how it affects us, and (my favorite) explain how general news coverage often totally misunderstands or misrepresents a story. Discover Magazine has a wide range of options, including Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog, the news aggregating 80beats, and Ed Yong’s quirky Not Exactly Rocket Science, which I’ve raved about before for his weekly “I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here” column that puts my news updates to shame. I only discovered the Smithsonian’s Dinosaur Tracking blog last week when I happened to run across Brian Switek’s analysis of the Doctor Who’s “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” (verdict: not bad, but where are the feathers?), but I already know I’m going to love it. Skepchick is another favorite; it mixes science with a healthy dose of skepticism, atheism, and feminism, and takes particular glee in tearing down bad science and pseudoscience, all while being really funny. (Last week they tried to determine the most pornographic-sounding astronomical terms. I giggled pretty viciously.) The offerings at Freethought Blogs deal predominantly with atheism and related themes, but there’s a fair amount of science coverage too, especially on Pharyngula. The xkcd webcomic frequently takes a fun and sarcastic look at science, and their new-ish “What if?” series is pure physics gold. And of course, be sure to check out Ailanthus-altissima’s excellent science coverage right here on Persephone every Monday!

Obviously, traditional news sites can be a good source of information on new scientific developments as well. I’ve found the BBC to have some of the best coverage on their Science and Environment and Nature pages. They don’t go for hyperbole nearly as much as some of the other news outlets and tend to cover some of the quirkier stories that come along (like, the merits of penguin and whale poop). The New York Times’ science section is also highly informative, if a bit more selective in their coverage. They don’t cover every story, but what they do write about is generally covered in exhaustive detail. Specialized sites such as Science MagazineScientific American, and the official NASA page are also wonderful resources. Of the TV news stations’ web offerings, I tend to prefer MSNBC’s. It’s pretty heavy on technology and Internet news over pure science, but they do cover some interesting stories. So far as I can tell, CNN doesn’t have a dedicated science page, although Fox News does. However, I’ve found numerous examples in the past where both of those sites had a less-than-thorough grasp on what they were covering, or at least used horribly misleading headlines.

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson smiling with his hands folded under his chin, captioned "Hey, here's how to do science"

Which leads me to my last point. Wherever you get your science news (or really, any news), keep your bullshit detector on. Never assume you know the full story from the headline. Headlines are designed to grasp your attention, and are frequently written by an editor or someone else other than the writer; someone who may not understand what they just read and is just going for maximum impact. I’ve discussed this before with reference to a study that found possible genetic links between large breasts and breast cancer but was widely reported as large breasts causing cancer. If a study finds something drastically different from established scientific fact (say, the existence of arsenic-based life forms, which was roundly debunked within days of the announcement), approach it with a hearty degree of skepticism. Obviously not all revolutionary discoveries are wrong, but good scientists will seek independent confirmation of their discoveries before announcing that they’ve changed Science As We Know It. But don’t feel bad if you believe something that turns out not to be true. The greatest scientific minds of all time have all been wrong at one time or another, and no one can claim complete scientific literacy, which is largely irrelevant anyway. Keep an open mind, and be willing to accept new information as it comes in. That’s really what science is about, anyway.

What are your favorite science pages? Any recommended twitter feeds, podcasts, or pinterest boards? Share in the comments below.

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[E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

10 thoughts on “Where (and How) to Read Science on the Internet”

  1. Any anthro news tips? Specifically biological anth (or evolutionary anth) or paleo anth, but any anth would be great. I’m the sort of person who squees over new dna finds about denisovians and evidence for neanderthal culture (OMG DID YOU SEE THE EVIDENCE THAT THEY USE CARRION FEATHERS AS DECORATIVE COVERINGS OR THE TENDENCY TOWARDS USING BLACK PIGMENTS AND EEEEE!)

    While I do spend my evenings watching physics documentaries, for both awesome science and for me not following the math enough to want to stay up and contest the simplifications, Anthro is my LOVE. LOVE.

      1. Nope, just hit a confluence of travel, research FINALLY falling into place (and the ensuing scramble to make up for lost time), and a perhaps inadvised insistence on making my own bridesmaid’s dress for one of my best friends’ wedding.  But now there’s no travel on the horizon, and the wedding was lovely and wonderful, and thus should be back to posting at least vaguely regularly.  I’ll drop a note in the open thread once I do!

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