How Science News does science journalism

Science News has been publishing award-winning science journalism for nearly a century. Our standards and processes are essential to what we do, and we believe they should be as transparent and accessible as the stories we publish.

We created this FAQ to answer your questions about what goes into our journalism. Take a look, and if you have more questions or suggestions, let’s start a conversation. Write to us at feedback@sciencenews.org.

THE BASICS

What does Science News write about?

We write about science, medicine and technology broadly, including new findings and techniques, surprising statistics and the latest science trends.

Who writes for Science News?

Most of our writers specialize in a particular area of science. Here are their bios. Our staff combines experience in scientific research — many writers have Ph.D.s or other degrees in areas related to the topics they write about — and in journalism. Those skills help us gather, critically assess and present information. We also work with freelancers who have experience writing about scientific topics.

Where does Science News get ideas for stories?

Story ideas can come from anywhere, but here are a few methods we often use:

  • Reading studies in scientific journals, including widely known ones such as Science and Nature and journals focused on specific areas of science
  • Attending scientific conferences to learn about new developments
  • Exploring the science behind topics of interest to readers and the general public
  • Scanning the news for opportunities to explain science related to current events
  • Talking with scientists, policy makers and the public
  • Monitoring the latest developments in a field of science to spot trends

COVERING RESEARCH IN SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS

How does Science News judge the quality of a study appearing in a scientific journal?

We evaluate the size of a study, including the number of participants or the amount of data collected, and assess whether the data presented match the researchers’ interpretations. We typically consult experts who were not involved in the research. When claims of statistical significance are made, we gauge whether what’s statistically true is likely to have any real-world relevance — and, in some cases, verify a paper’s statistical analyses with statisticians. We also interview scientists whose work is referenced in a study to ensure that the work is being represented and interpreted accurately, and consider how many lines of evidence support the conclusions.

When and how does Science News report on research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed?

Research studies are often evaluated by other scientists to determine if they are good enough to be published in a journal. Peer reviewers examine the experimental design, methods and statistics for scientific rigor. Reviewers also evaluate the conclusions to see if data support the claims made. This review is meant to maintain standards in the field and to determine if the scientific claims are sound and novel.

But research may be newsworthy even if it hasn’t yet been scrutinized by peer reviewers. When we cover research that hasn’t been peer-reviewed — such as scientific findings that are presented at a conference or a research paper made available at arXiv.org, bioRxiv.org or on another “preprint” server — we approach it with extra care and might consult more outside experts than we otherwise would.

Often there is little difference, if any, between the paper posted to a preprint site and what appears in a journal after peer review, but sometimes the changes are substantial. When covering work that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, writers may ask researchers what sort of feedback they’ve gotten from others in the community and how much is likely to change in a future peer-review process. When covering research presented at meetings, writers try to gauge how far from publication a finding is and what major questions remain to be answered. Sometimes we don’t write about hot new studies because they are too preliminary. Other times we may write about a preliminary finding because its implications are striking.

Why do Science News stories use words like “could,” “may” and “suggests” when talking about scientific results?

Every scientific finding has caveats, limitations and alternate explanations. Our writers and editors use terms such as “suggests” or “could” when a finding is not yet certain. These terms reflect the fact that scientific research is an ongoing process. Rarely does one single study fully answer a scientific question. Science News writers and editors work hard to place the findings of each new study in context.

How do press embargoes affect our coverage?

The embargo is a mandate that forbids a news organization from publishing a story about a given topic until a certain time. Publishers of scientific journals, PR agencies and institutions use embargoes to control when news is released to journalists and the public. Embargoes explain why you may see many news outlets publish stories on the same research at the same time. Institutions will often send press releases or release scientific papers to journalists a few days in advance under embargo, in hopes that the research will get press coverage. An embargo gives us more time to report on that research and pull together an accurate story.

SOURCES

Who do Science News writers interview for a story?

Our writers look broadly for sources to interview for stories, including authors of scientific papers, experts whose work is cited in a research paper, trusted contacts cultivated over years of reporting, recommendations from other experts and online searches. We also talk to people who aren’t scientists, including policy makers, patients, industry leaders and people whose lives are affected by new developments in science, technology and medicine.

When writing about a scientific study, why does Science News quote people who aren’t involved in the research?

Interviewing outside experts who weren’t involved directly in the research can provide an independent assessment of various aspects of the work. Outside experts can put a study into context, give perspective on a study’s importance and point out potential strengths and weaknesses of the work.

How does Science News evaluate sources?

Our writers try to find subject-matter experts who can provide accurate and up-to-date information. Writers and editors check sources’ institutional affiliations, their publications and sometimes social media. We ask sources about personal biases or financial conflicts that readers should know about and generally avoid sources who might have conflicts of interest.

EDITORIAL PROCESSES

What’s the editing and production process at Science News?

Getting a story ready for publication is an all-staff effort. For shorter news stories, at least one content editor sees a story before publication. Editors work to ensure that the news and context are clear and that important details are included and accurate. The design director and assistant art directors choose and edit photos, videos and infographics to accompany stories, or create those visuals. The web production and social media team craft headlines, put the stories online and come up with posts for Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

For longer features, as well as in-depth infographics and videos, the editing process can take weeks to months. The first draft of a feature article is reviewed by multiple editors as well as the design and web production teams, so they can begin planning images or other media to accompany the story.

How does Science News find and evaluate images, videos and other multimedia?

Images, videos and other multimedia powerfully convey scientific concepts. We often use media produced by outside sources, including research institutions, scientific journals, researchers and stock photo agencies. Our design team researches visual options and checks to make sure they are accurate and that we have complied with all licensing requirements, including crediting the source of the image. Our design team also commissions original illustrations, graphics, photography and video – or creates those visuals.

FACT-CHECKING

Are all Science News stories fact-checked?

Due to time constraints, news stories published online do not regularly go through a distinct fact-checking process. Editors do perform some fact-checking duties, such as checking names, affiliations and numbers for accuracy, along with looking for logical inconsistencies, and writers check their facts as well. Feature stories are fact-checked before they are posted online. And online news stories that later appear in the print magazine are fact-checked before they are published in print.

What is the fact-checking process at Science News?

Science News has two staff members who fact-check content, and we also rely on freelance fact-checkers. Fact-checkers do their best to confirm the accuracy of all parts of a story, including headlines, photo captions and credits, data that appear in graphs or charts and the raw data behind any visualizations or interactives. The fact-checkers use materials provided by the writer, including research papers, websites and interview notes or transcripts; they also perform independent research. Our fact-checkers do not call sources to check the quotes used in a story.

Do people quoted in an article get to see the article and their quotes before publication?

It’s the responsibility of writers to ensure the accuracy of quotes. Writers often return to a source to check facts, but sources are not allowed to review articles prior to publication. This is standard journalistic practice to maintain independence and editorial integrity.

When and how does Science News issue corrections?

We publish corrections for factual errors as well as any misleading or mischaracterizing statements. It is up to the writer and editors to verify a mistake and determine how the story should be changed to correct the error. When an online story is updated, an editor’s note at the end of the story indicates what text has been fixed and for what reason, as well as the date of the change. For a story that has appeared in print, the correction typically appears on the Feedback page of the earliest print issue after the error is identified.

EDITORIAL STANDARDS

What is editorial independence, and how does Science News maintain it?

Editorial independence is the freedom of editors and writers at a news organization to report and write about topics at will, without an external party’s involvement. At Science News, no institution, government body, scientist or other entity, including our publisher, Society for Science & the Public, determines what we write about, nor are we paid to write about (or not write about) certain stories. We publish stories only on what we find newsworthy. You can learn more about our editorial independence on our About page.

How does Science News manage potential conflicts of interest?

We try to avoid conflicts of interest whenever possible. However, when such conflicts are unavoidable, we disclose them to our readers. For example, when we cover the work of a scientist who has a relationship with our parent organization, such as a member of the Board of Trustees of Society for Science & the Public, we say so in the story.

How does Science News cover controversial aspects of science?

We focus on data and facts, and we note when there are limitations or caveats in research findings. If we publish opinion or commentary, we label it clearly.

Science News doesn’t present “both sides” of an issue when there is a clear scientific consensus. For issues such as the age of the Earth, the process of evolution, the effectiveness of vaccines and the dangers of human-caused climate change, for example, Science News will report well-established science, regardless of disagreements in popular opinion.

Where does Science News get its financial support?

Science News is published by Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. We get financial support through paid subscriptions, advertisements, individual donations, institutional grants and sponsorships. Financial supporters have no influence on what we write about and no knowledge of the specific content of stories.