Letters to the editor

Readers weigh in on the September/October issue
October 31, 2014

For the love of science

The title of Andrew’s FB page (“I Fucking Love Science”) and growing online empire is the first clue that the whole enterprise has something rotten at the core (“Do you know Elise Andrew?” September/October). The in-your-face F-bomb is a declaration that she holds to no tradition of civility, but instead marches under the most prominent flag of the vulgar and narcissistic anti-culture. The British writer and physician Theodore Dalrymple has done the most to examine this disastrous turn in modern life in his books Life at the Bottom and Our Culture–What’s Left of It. Every serious journalist ought to read these disturbing reports from the front lines of our civilization.

Language and words matter, not just for content, but for the signals and links that they have to countless other aspects of our shared life and behavior in society. Like many people Dalrymple writes about in his books, Andrew perhaps has no sense yet for the fragility of civil society, and feels no particular obligation to sustain it. Many CJR readers, fortunately, do understand this point–witness the letters that poured in when the magazine dropped a gratuitous F-bomb on the front cover a few issues back.

‘The in-your-face F-bomb is a declaration that she holds to no tradition of civility.’

“F– is just a word,” Andrew and her pals might argue. Really? Just a word? Perhaps someday Andrew and her husband will outgrow the clashing noise of heavy metal and the adolescent thrill of casually tossing obscenities. Let’s imagine years from now, when they might have a daughter of their own. If they do, a boy will probably come by the house someday to take her out to a school dance or a walk in the park. If that young man announces, “I’m here to pick up your f–ing daughter,” let’s hope Andrew and her husband will by that time know exactly what to do.

It is not just a word. We don’t have to say it’s cool.

David Burns

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Springfield, VA

Success in science communication should not be won by ripping and running with others’ uncredited work.

There’s no excuse for it these days, either. With Google Reverse Image Search or you can usually figure out the creator of an image in less than a couple of minutes. Like Alex Wild, I have tried on Twitter and on Scientific American blogs (I write for Symbiartic) to point this out to IFLS and it is met with silence. IFLS is not a brand built by one person–it rests on the hard work of scores of uncredited creators and scores more who never gave permission.

It’s sad: Imagine if IFLS became a champion for image attribution? That would be powerful.

Glendon Mellow (@FlyingTrilobite)

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I think it’s utter bullshit this constant “Whaa! You’re not allowed to talk about such and such theory/technology because you didn’t mention my name.” They should get a friggin’ grip and a patent. IFLS briefly touches on the concept, it doesn’t actually fully explain the process. Sometimes geeks are by far the worst deniers of advancement because of their petulant whining.

Steve Robinson

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Do I know Elise Andrew? Yes I do. But not for the reasons this article discusses. That’s only half the story.

I’m familiar with Elise Andrew because she’s used the uncredited images of at least three artists I actively follow online. These artists gained no traffic for their sites–there wasn’t so much as a mention of who created the images, let alone a link back to them.

Most artists would be more than willing to have their images shared by a page like IFLS, given they receive credit for their hard work. Elise Andrew could have so easily built positive relationships with the artists, designers, and photographers her popularity rests on the shoulders of. But she didn’t. She CHOSE not to.

Great science communication is extremely important to me–seeing it done in a way that exploits the image-makers who share in that love of science is incredibly disappointing.

Sharon Wegner-Larsen

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I don’t get all the hazing here of someone who provides more science communication to society than anyone else ever has. Great things .  .  . like understanding GMOs and vaccinations. As for credit of images, just about everything posted is credited that I can see. What an achievement by Elise. A very small fraction of a percent of people leave nothing but spoiled remarks.


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WOW is this the best that CJR can muster on a young woman who is getting lots of normal people to actually think, talk and engage about science on a scale that has eluded a vast majority of outlets? At a time when science has arguably never been more important and most mainstream outlets fail miserably at shedding intelligent light rather than heat, CJR offers a cover story case study for why. Was this supposed to be a profile? If so, it’s shoddy at best, and not because Fitts failed to get Andrew to participate. Why should she? This is a set-up hatchet job by a reporter looking for one thing and settling for nothing that really sheds light on anything of consequence other than as yet another example for why conventional gotcha journalism is broken.

Blue Heron

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Yes, I do know Elise. We used to be involved in various FB shenanigans. She blew up at me big time because I made the mistake of saying her temper is “unpleasant at times.”

I openly refute allegations that she promised the early IFLS admins/contributors any form of payment. Elise genuinely started it as her own thing, and as a tongue-in-cheek riposte to “I bet we can find 1,000,000 Creationists.” Obviously IFLS accrued multiple millions, with the Creationism group laboring to get a few thousand.

So I have to leap to her defense; regardless of the unacknowledged early work of other IFLS contributors, and regardless of her creative interpretations of IPR. She has genuinely taken the role of science communicator to the next level.

IFLS may also be “I Fucking Love Feeling Clever by Liking Pictures of Sand,” but importantly it has definitely educated people, and it definitely raises awareness of scientific endeavor (and attempts to restrict it).

IFLS is generally much, much better at understanding licensing and proper accreditation these days, and they (Elise and Jake) seem to be posting real science too these days, not just memes and chemistry jokes.

Pain in the arse that she can be, she is on the balance of it, a force for good. People look up to her, female students see her as a role model and inspiration to get onto a science course.

IFLS continues to make science sexy.

Paul Madley

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Growing pains

The characterization of the assessment results for the news literacy movement as “scant” and “not very encouraging” should be reconsidered (“Can news literacy grow up?” September/October). While I have no connection to the Stony Brook post-secondary level project, I’ve been analyzing the News Literacy Project’s middle school and high school assessment results for three years and have documented important accomplishments.

If the “scant” reference is aimed at the amount of available data, it is fair to say that the total number of assessments conducted so far is still not abundant, but proportionately it is substantial. In 2014 more than one-third of all students completed pre-post assessments showing noteworthy changes in knowledge, for example, about the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and attitudes, such as about the importance of a free press. These students also consistently gave high marks to NLP (more than 80 percent of all students at every grade level and in every region valued the course) and were able to clarify in their own words how they could use what they learned. The evidence used in clinical trials for clearing medications, though always more controlled than any studies conducted by NLP, to date, is often based on far fewer subjects.

To date, more than 16,500 students have had the opportunity to participate in NLP–but as you point out in your article there are millions of public school students. This certainly highlights the need to continue working on the demand side. NLP has demonstrated commitment in that regard too through the development of its digital unit.

Even as NLP reached 10 times as many students in 2014 as it did in 2009, its first year in the classroom, results for those participating in the digital unit and those participating in classroom units were very similar: They learned important information about news and news literacy, reported changes in attitudes about news literacy and the importance of the press, increased civic awareness, and reflected changes in their use of information.

It is true that NLP has not yet determined how long the changes that have been clearly documented through evaluation will stay in effect. What is definite for NLP is that many students, from multiple cities, multiple grade-levels, studying multiple subjects, and through varying modalities (e.g., classroom, digital, summer, after school), are able to correctly answer questions about news and news literacy after the course that they were not able to correctly answer before they were involved with NLP.

I am a professional evaluator with more than 20 years of experience assessing change and outcomes. I’ve worked closely with key decision-makers at NLP and have experienced first-hand their dedication to the evaluative process and to using data to inform ongoing program decisions.

NLP has held itself to high evaluative standards and can demonstrate meaningful positive outcomes from their work. Again, though they do not necessarily represent the whole movement, I would respectfully submit that these results should be considered emergent rather than “scant”–impressive, promising, and worth continued attention.

Anita M. Baker, Ed.D.

Evaluation Services

Lambertville, NJ

Uncle Sam wants you to shut up

I appreciate Louise Roug taking the time to review my War Reporters Under Threat (“Uncle Sam wants (to kill) you,” September/October 2014). The book is tangentially critical of the US press and cites a good deal of research to support that criticism. With respect to Roug and her colleagues, it isn’t a book about the Western press in Baghdad, and that some US reporters might dismiss the story this book tells as one they don’t recognize supports part of my thesis. This book will be accused of missing “the true threat” because, unlike many other reports on news safety, I’ve chosen not to focus on the ongoing and escalating threat from authoritarian governments, insurgents, and gangs. This is a story about a government which claims to defend media, but often does the opposite (and the book doesn’t promise to be anything other than that). Is the US the “main” threat to expression? No–but pretending it isn’t a threat at all is dangerous and organizations like the IFJ have pointed out that US actions against media create a precedent for other countries to follow.

The factual errors in the review require correction. There is no reference to 40 deaths since 1991, but the deaths of media workers the book does attribute to the US and its surrogates since 1999 are detailed (as one part of a much larger picture), as are the sources (like the CPJ and many others). The CPJ does wonderful work, but the tendency of some in the US news industry to rely exclusively on their reports and judgments provides a partial picture (as the book explains). The BBC quote is provided out of context, since it referred to the deliberation of the US bombing of media in Kabul–revealed not by my book, but by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Suskind. What this reviewer calls “harassment” the journalists and editors involved reported as “torture” in several cases. The well-known examples this reviewer agrees “should not be forgotten” suggests other US-connected deaths of media workers, and other violence against media, should be. I don’t agree (nor do some prominent US journalists who have addressed this issue, like Jeremy Scahill or Nicholas Kristof). The book avoids any universal claim of “targeting journalists,” but also challenges the easy dismissal of media deaths as “friendly fire” or “tragic mistakes of war.” I explain why this easy pigeonholing is part of the problem, but it won’t be an easy habit to break.

Is the book political? In that it sets out to challenge conventional thinking, of course it is, and many–especially in the US media–won’t agree with the message. As I point out at the outset, the book is a compilation of well-documented public information which has been too easily swept under the table. Ignoring it won’t make the problem go away.

Chris Paterson

Author, War Reporters Under Threat


(“Can news literacy grow up?” September/October) The original article said that Alan Miller’s News Literacy Project was inspired by the program at Stony Brook. Miller says the idea for his project took shape before he had ever heard of the Stony Brook program. 

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.