Tracing the trail of science news

On June 9th the Guardian’s science website launched the ‘story tracker’, an experimental attempt to track reactions to and analysis of major science news stories in the days and weeks after they are published on the site. The idea is to bridge the gap between how scientists tend to communicate their work (with all its complexity and uncertainties) and the traditional news-story format which is by necessity brief and focused on one or two points chosen by the writer. According to Alok Jha’s blog, to do this the newspaper is encouraging anyone to submit follow-ups, which will be added to the site daily.

I think it’s a great concept and I’m eager to see how it works out. News is by nature ephemeral and this won’t stop it from being ephemeral, but I don’t see a downside to extending a story’s lifetime to capture multiple viewpoints and the complexity it deserves – other than, perhaps, a susceptibility to giving unwarranted exposure to the views of people or groups with the time and inclination (or indeed, the agenda) to contribute.

Judging from the first example of how this is going to work – a story on the genetics of autism – the science correspondents are moderating the entries, which is helpful. The entries that make up the ‘extended story’ are titled, and this does help with navigating. I wonder whether the tracking would be even more reader friendly if the feedback is tagged or categorised further. As a reader, one thing I’m not keen on is having to trawl through contributions that may be focused on different aspects of the story if I’m only interested in something in particular – details on the methodology for example, or stories published by other news outlets. The need for that is probably something to judge once there are a few examples on the site.