They Read the Articles? Playboy Piece Wins Science Prize

A panel of “mainstream” media judges have demonstrated that someone reads the articles in Playboy magazine, not just gapes at the nude pictorials. The 2008 Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award went to Los Angeles Times writer Terry McDermott, but the Honorable Mention went to Playboy writer Chip Rowe for a series on male sexuality. The press release explained:

Rowe received the honorable mention for three articles that are part of an ongoing series on male sexuality: “Flight of the Spermatozoon,” “Are We Not Boys,” and “Sex on the Brain.” The judges lauded Rowe's delightful, yet scientifically grounded, exploration of his topic. They complimented his vivid and lively writing style and the appropriateness of his articles for his audience.

“Vivid and lively” would seem to be a required tone for writing about scientific topics for a pornographic magazine, wouldn't you think? It takes skill to write with “appropriateness” for a magazine dedicated to the inappropriate, designed to cross the frontier of naughtiness.

Consider the vivid, yet heartless adultery-friendly tone of Rowe's intro on sperm in flight:

In the time it takes to read this sentence, your testicles will have produced 5,000 sperm. By the end of this page, another 100,000. A billion more wait in reserve. They hope to be released inside a vagina, but if no woman is available, they will find a way out. Your brain will help by providing a fantasy in which the female doesn't say no. Your brain is generous with these fantasies. You can't walk down a runway of breeders like Fifth Avenue in Manhattan without judging every woman in an instant as doable or, in more polite terms, as a means to push your genes into the next generation. If you could have a quickie with every five or better without expending any effort besides catching up with her, and she would bear your child without asking you to stick around (with the exception of a few playdate; you're not heartless) or pay for anything, how many kids would you create? Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty, rule of Morocco from 1672 to 1727, is the official record holder, with at least 867. Because with as much grief as men get for our seemingly boundless sexual appetites, it's not about getting off. We can do that on our own. At the most basic level it's about ego: there can never be too many versions of you.

Does this paragraph really scream “the best in science writing?” Or does it simply pander to the hedonist philosophy of the “boundless sexual appetite?” Put aside for a moment Playboy's cheerful entertainment of the notion of a male indulging himself in an endless series of “quickies” to create an army of single mothers the “father” won't financially support. Is it the best in “science” to announce the theorem that the sperm is a powerful being that will “find a way out,” as if the male brain has absolutely no capacity for self-discipline? Or is this just a porn writer's version of sexual phlogiston theory? Shouldn't a media elite dreaming of an Obama Utopia be more idealistic about the possibilities of more civilized males?

The press release explained how the media “mainstream” is helping to bring prestige to pornographers:

The six members of the 2008 judging committee were: Deborah Blum (co-chair), professor of journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a 1992 Pulitzer Prize winner; Joe Palca (co-chair), senior science correspondent for National Public Radio; Sue Goetinck Ambrose, science writer for The Dallas Morning News and a 2004 winner of the award; Robin Marantz Henig, freelance journalist and contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine; Jon Palfreman, independent documentary film producer; and Nancy Shute, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report. Charles Petit, freelance journalist and head tracker, Knight Science Journalism Tracker was a special nominating judge.

The Wistar Institute Science Journalism Award honors annually the most insightful and enterprising reporting on the basic biomedical sciences in print or broadcast journalism. Established in 2004, the prize has established itself as a major award in professional journalism. Submissions for the contest were very competitive this year, as in years past, with strong entries received from top journalists reporting for major print and broadcast outlets across the country.

These men and women must be so proud to offer an “Honorable Mention” to articles with serious “professional journalism” headlines about how “You'll never look at your balls the same way again.” Their bow of honor is not a milestone of scientific enlightenment, but another signpost of cultural rot.