About this Author
DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

In the Pipeline

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March 22, 2009

Blogs and Journalism

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Posted by Derek

Nature is out with a piece on the state of science journalism, and I'm quoted several times as a representative science blogger. They've overstated my blog traffic, though, which is gratifying but inaccurate. Instead of 200,000 page views per week, that's more like my traffic per month. Give it time, I guess! I also am an occasional contributor to an Atlantic web site, not a regular columnist for them.

Update: And in a response to the Nature article by science writer Francis Sedgemore, there's this:

One successful science blog identified by Brumfiel is that of pharmaceutical industry researcher Derek Lowe. “In the Pipeline” is a very well-written blog, but here we have a classic example of a blogospheric closed ecosystem. Lowe’s writing is not journalism, and can never be so given the author’s declared affiliation. More genuinely independent sources of online science news and comment include the web magazines Wired and Seed.

I guess it depends on whether opinion journalism is journalism - since that's what I write much of the time. And how about when I'm writing about something that has no connection to the pharmaceutical industry; do I slip back over the line then? To tell you the truth, I'm not necessarily sold on the idea of journalism as a particular professional category - as far as I know, the whole idea of the dispassionate truth-seeking journalist is a pretty recent one.

But that said, I don't consider myself a journalist, either, under almost anyone's definition. I'll take "writer", although that should really be "part-time writer": I'm a scientist by trade; the writing is something I do on my train rides or in the evenings. If I had to support my family on earnings from my written work, we'd all be eating weeds out of the back yard.

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blog Housekeeping


1. Sili on March 22, 2009 1:19 PM writes...

I'm not usually part of the avant garde, but I was reading both you and PeeZed before this piece put you next to eachother.

(In fact I was reading you before I ever even heard of Pharyngula for what little it's worth.)

Do you still write for Chem. World? I haven't looked at it for nearly two years - since I got ill.

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2. Canageek on March 22, 2009 1:58 PM writes...

Well, after your in Nature I wouldn't be surprised to see your blog traffic go through the roof

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3. Shtina on March 22, 2009 4:07 PM writes...

It's no Nature, but you were also noted in the March 16th issue of Chemical and Engineering News, interestingly in the business section. Your blog is "well researched, thoughtful, and well written." I agree.

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4. Jack Bauer on March 22, 2009 5:08 PM writes...

Break open the champagne Derek, congratulations!

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5. Ryann on March 22, 2009 8:33 PM writes...

Hmm yes it seems like they thrust upon you a role which is not fully yours, and them blamed you for being what only they claimed you to be! ha!

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6. SRC on March 22, 2009 10:02 PM writes...

Lowe’s writing is not journalism, and can never be so given the author’s declared affiliation.

You got some love there. If they ever characterize you as a "journalist," sue for slander/libel. Nothing - nothing - is lower than a "journalist."

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7. Bored on March 22, 2009 10:23 PM writes...


You are a far better reporter of facts than any of the mainstream "journalists" spouting their biased, one-sided views while claiming to be objective. "Journalists" would be better off admitting their bias in reporting. We might take them more seriously.

In the meantime, congrats on some well-deserved attention.

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8. CMC guy on March 22, 2009 10:42 PM writes...

Derek congrats on the "publicity" and I would suggest you are a "scientist who writes extremely well in high level topics yet with common understanding" which is fairly rare combination. You provide an interactive forum with wide diversity in issues coverage (you are also good at making up descriptive new words which I attribute to the time in Germany).

Unfortunately most of the "science journalism" seems to miss the mark in dealing with complex subjects. I realize they often have a difficult task of simplification for public consumption but either it gets so watered down would have to take it in a lab to analyze for science content or they only focus on dramatic details and misrepresent what is really involved. Most stuff in mass media (print and electronic) is frustrating to read/hear. Of course Scientists themselves are frequently at fault since they can't seem to communicate effectively to others outside (their own or different science field) and also like to talk about their successes/potential.

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9. CMC guy on March 22, 2009 10:46 PM writes...

SRC I disagree as immediately would offer lawyers and politicians (with a politician who is a lawyer being squared).

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10. Morten G on March 23, 2009 2:04 AM writes...

Definitely not a journalist. You forgot to close your italics =p

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11. Jonadab the Unsightly One on March 23, 2009 5:46 AM writes...

> If they ever characterize you as a "journalist,"
> sue for slander/libel. Nothing - nothing -
> is lower than a "journalist."

If there were anything lower than a journalist, it would be someone who files pointless unnecessary lawsuits. So no, don't do that.

Incidentally, I'm pretty sure I know where the notion of the truth-seeking journalist comes from: comic books (and Lois Lane in particular). In a world in which exposure to the same radiation can provide four companions each with different amazing new capabilities, and being bitten by a radioactive spider can cause you to climb walls and shoot spiderweb out of your wrists, and so forth, the idea that a journalist might care about accuracy hardly seems far-fetched at all.

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12. Don B. on March 23, 2009 6:54 AM writes...

I would say politicians are the lowest form of life as we know it. Lawyers are a necessary evil.

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13. John Spevacek on March 23, 2009 8:32 AM writes...

"If I had to support my family on earnings from my written work, we'd all be eating weeds out of the back yard."

Given your northern location, you can also seasonally add snow peas and iceberg lettuce to the menu.

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14. milkshake on March 23, 2009 9:39 AM writes...

The earnings should improve considerably once Derek becomes a fixture on CNN. By the way, the word pundit has a very entertaining history

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15. Hap on March 23, 2009 9:39 AM writes...

The assumption that journalists don't have their own biases (or at least that the editors above them who approve their work don't) would seem to be at odds with observable reality - if that were the case, then the NYT and the Washington Times ought to be a lot more similar. (This discounts the Blair-type fabricators and such). Particularly since Dr. Lowe's biases are clear, his writing should be seen as more crediible, within limits, because you can figure out what is going on - what might be biased and what is left in and out, and it doesn't claim to be the whole truth. Of course, knowing something helps, too.

I can't really think journalists are that bad because I'm liberal - but to the point, where are you going to find out when something bad happens? Do you think Nixon would have said anything about having the Democratic HQ burglarized otherwise, or that the Democrats would willingly explain the holes and optimistic assumptions in their budgets otherwise? The only way these things are found out is through someone else's reporting. (If you were talking about the Sun's reporters, though, I might agree, or anything in the checkout aisle of the supermarket.)

I would still put used car salesmen (mostly men) at the bottom of the list - even though their dishonesty is open, the smell makes me gag. Lawyers and politicians are useful and honest some of the time.

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16. Hap on March 23, 2009 10:26 AM writes...

Oh, and has the responder actually read Wired lately? Their preference for technical solutions to social problems coupled with their FSF ethos (except when it comes to their publishing, of course) might be a substantive bias in itself. The level of hype therein is not exactly refreshing, either.

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17. RB Woodweird on March 23, 2009 10:36 AM writes...

I'm going to post this as a story on Slashdot. Then we'll see some real visit numbers.

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18. Hap on March 23, 2009 12:01 PM writes...

Have you seen how good Corante's servers are? You'll probably evaporate them, with the fumes catching immediate fire and turning the servers into fuel-air bombs.

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19. Joseph Cerro on March 23, 2009 7:22 PM writes...

I've always held that a scientist is a person who rigorously applies the scientific method, regardless of whether they are a tenured professor or a backyard astronomer. The distinction between the two individuals is a matter of vocation versus avocation.

Likewise, it is adherence to certain methods and practices which makes someone a journalist, not the logo on their business card. In any event, I find "reporter," "editor," "columnist," etc. to be far more meaningful terms than "journalist."

To be fair to Sedgemore, his piece was more subtle than his characterization of Derek's efforts might suggest.

On the other hand, there's also the Dave Barry quip: "We journalists... are also extremely impressed with scientists, and we will, frankly, print just about any wacky thing they tell us, especially if it involves outer space." (Source for Barry's quip: )

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20. SRC on March 23, 2009 10:05 PM writes...

CMC guy, I'd say that journalists are like lawyers, but without as much education or verbal facility, and like politicians, but without any clout.

But I take your point. It's like debating which species of cockroach is the worst.

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21. CMC Guy on March 23, 2009 10:11 PM writes...

SRC good points ;). IMO the worst species of cockroach is the ones in my kitchen.

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22. Bored on March 24, 2009 7:46 AM writes...

I spent a number of years as a self-employed artist. Among art circles, the Art Critic is considered low on the food chain. Art Critics typically are people who love art, but aren't good enough artists to make it in the profession.

Journalists are wanna-be politicians. They want their ideas to matter, but they don't have what it takes to be a politician. Imagine that for a minute! For Dante, that puts journalists down there below used-car salesmen. (For the P.C. "previously-owned automobile persons.")

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23. Mind the GAP on March 25, 2009 5:16 AM writes...

I like this exchange and "in the Pipeline" in general (even before the nature article came out)...And I like to call myself a science journalist which sadly seems to have a bad reputation here...

Here is a functional definition of journalism I like that puts it apart from scientists, laywers, writers and other crafts:
"journalism is truth seeking storytelling, primarily serving citizens, without a legal foundation."

By the way. At least in germany one can make a decent living observing science. So far my family still has something more than weeds to eat, though things are changing ever more rapidly.

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24. kelly on May 1, 2009 8:38 PM writes...

As a journalist who writes about science, health, and medicine you really don't want to get me started on researchers who wouldn't know a patient if one bit them on the backside; who are focused on fighting their way up the tenure ladder one pointless, repetitive study at a time or those who are so vested in the politics of their profession that they have completely lost their sheep I mean sense of ethics - no wait - I take it back. I'll not slam your profession if you'll not slam mine.

Every profession is plagued by idiots, charlatans, the overworked and underpaid, inarticulate bores, and cheats. You could get over it and move on. Or you could move to a country where those journalist cockroaches take their very lives in their hands to report the news. A democracy may start to look good rather quickly.

Seriously, if you are still confused about professional journalism you may wish to go to
and educate yourself.

Congrats on the blog. It is interesting.

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25. Joerg Kurt Wegner on June 3, 2009 1:42 PM writes...

@Derek - What do you think about this policy discussion on conference blogging?

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