The varied nature of newsworthy scientific breakthroughs creates a challenge for publishers reporting on them, not least the flexibility required to cover these stories in depth at short notice. However, this challenge can be met with the help of specialised freelance writers who provide a valuable combination of technical expertise, research skills and writing ability, argues Ashmita Das, CEO of open talent platform Kolabtree.
Many publishers have in-house writers that can produce content on broad topics such as the environment or health. However, a writer who typically covers environmental news may not as easily or confidently produce a detailed feature concerning methods of planetary defence against near-Earth objects, for example.
In today’s media landscape, small publishing teams faced with high pressures might need to produce scientific content at very short notice. In that situation, a team is faced with two options: drop the story or outsource the writing. With the demand for scientific reporting on the up post-pandemic, outsourcing is becoming a more attractive option for reporting on specialist stories.
The value of outsourcing
Many publishers already outsource some content production to freelance writers to augment their content supply, sourcing high-quality content from people from various domains and backgrounds. Outsourcing makes it possible to simultaneously cover a range of topics on-demand, with freelance writers producing content on a project-by-project basis, flexibly when required.
Having a broad range of instantly available scientific experts would help publishers keep up with rapidly changing news narratives, especially because they are available for work at short notice. While their in-house writers continue to cover tech, culture, food and other topics, freelance writers can help tackle highly specialist science stories, producing articles on topics like quantum mechanics.
The rise of AI
The growing popularity of generative AI brings a more urgent reason to work with scientific experts. Though AI has been around for years, few have missed the recent coverage of generative tool ChatGPT, and that includes publishing houses. ChatGPT is being considered by publishers like Reach, who are investigating using it to write local news.
While generative AI tools can save publishers time and money, the chief issue appears to be that AI can convincingly produce inaccurate material.
Men’s Journal, for example, has already been called out by the scientific community for errors and plagiarism in its first AI written health piece. About the story, Bradley Anawalt, the chief of medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center said “There is just enough proximity to the scientific evidence and literature to have the ring of truth, but there are many false and misleading notes.”
On the issue, Dr Morgana Moretti, freelance scientist at Kolabtree, said, “AI-generated content has high potential in the scientific and medical industry, but safeguards are needed until accuracy is improved. ChatGPT, for example, was not trained by experts in biomedicine or by the entire collection of biomedical information, such as full-text articles behind the paywall at major publishers. This makes the output of these AI systems prone to error or incomplete. While AI-generated content can complement and enhance human capabilities, I believe it’s not a substitute for human expertise. For now, if you are looking for high-quality, accurate content, you still need human experts to produce it.”
Fact-checking a complex scientific story is much more challenging than a local news or general interest piece and requires the ability to critically analyse scientific literature. In the future, if we are to use AI to produce scientific content, the use of specialist scientific proof-readers, whose training allows them to spot science-related flaws in seemingly sound research, will be integral.
Traditionally however, highly specialised scientific writers and editors, such as someone with a PhD, have been difficult to employ at short notice and for short periods, except for those with large budgets. However, with the growth of the gig economy, there are now specialist scientific platforms that publishers can access directly. So, how can publishers go about onboarding the right specialised freelancer?
Specialised writers and where to find them
Finding the right freelance scientific writer or editor depends on having a clearly defined project scope: narrow down the subject matter, budget, timeline, and word count in detail, so the freelancer knows whether it is an exact fit for their skillset. Once you have posted your project and received bids from experts, you can start to narrow them down. Some platforms, such as Kolabtree, host a public CV with a research portfolio covering projects that freelancers have worked on and papers they have published, to give publishers a clear idea of their expertise.
With publishers under pressure to produce highly specialised content according to the news agenda, expert freelance writers can be a valuable asset, helping fulfil their obligation to provide timely, high-quality and accurate material.
Kolabtree is an online platform that provides access to over 20,000 scientific researchers, academics and industry consultants in a wide range of scientific disciplines. To find freelance science writers on demand, visit Kolabtree’s website and post a project for free.