This summer, I taught an introductory geology summer school class, heading back to my academic roots. Throughout the six week class, I asked my students to find a news story or blog post each week related to some aspect of geology from credible sources. My goal was to get them looking at popular science available on the web.

A fascimile of the first issue of Scientific American from 1845

A facsimile of the first issue of Scientific American from 1845

Because I was hoping for some variety in their submissions, I asked them to find two stories from three categories of geology-related news - one story a week for six weeks.

  1. News stories or blog posts related to recent geologic events: earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis etc.
  2. Reports about recent research that had been published in the peer reviewed literature or via government reports
  3. Discussion of policy issues related to geologic concepts: hydro-fracking, water desalination, climate change, etc.

The students found some really interesting stuff, but they sometimes had problems telling apart the categories I created. The most confusing stories were reports about recent research related to past geologic events, like a recent report outlining new scientific research about the risk of volcanic eruptions near Sumatra.

Understanding the nature of the science news stories is an important first step in understanding the topics discussed and putting these stories in context. A news story that references climate change in relation to recent heat waves is different than a science news story reporting on recent research findings related to global temperatures.

While my original three categories were focused on geology, I think there may be equivalent stories across the sciences.

But these categories might not be sufficient. What other science news categories might be useful? Biographical items? General interest field reports? Add your suggestions in the comments.