Science Journalists are NOT the Problem

Something that makes me very sad is going on over at Tara's blog, I'm afraid. A number of commenters, who seem to be largely scientists, are beating up mercilessly on science writers for various sins, largely misquotation (which wasn't even what Tara's post was originally about). The comments got as nasty as this:

So why should we be interviewed and questioned? Contact us and ask us to write a piece on some topic. If the resulting language is terrible, then have the editor work with the scientist to improve it. I think the journalist is entirely unnecessary.

As someone who has both written about science and edited various types of journalism, I can assure you, journalistic writing is a specialized skill, and although some academics and scientists get it, many do not. The journalist is most emphatically necessary.

But more importantly, whence this totally misplaced beating up on science writers in particular? We say this in the Mooney-Nisbet talk, and in fact said it this morning at the Center for American Progress: Science journalists as a whole are probably the most specialized and best trained journalists around. Many hold Ph.D.s, sometimes even in the fields they cover. If anything, the problem for science journalists is that many of them are losing their jobs, as major media organizations cut specialized coverage and go with, essentially, fluff. Crying Paris Hilton.

When it comes to the media, science reporters are the least of our problems.

A couple of other points that arise in the context of this discussion after the jump:

1. I check all my work with scientists whenever there's any doubt in my mind whatsoever as to its accuracy. My entire book, Storm World, was read over by various helpful scientists (none of whom had anything like the negative outlook on the media being expressed over at Ateiology). That said, no self-respecting journalist would give a scientist or any other source veto power over whether an article runs. Not gonna happen.

2. I second Carl Zimmer that I don't have a lot of trouble getting interviews with most scientists most of the time. On the other hand, Carl and I have books and thus may be better known than other science writers, and this may facilitate things for us.

3. I also second Jennifer Ouellette that sometimes scientists get too miffed about being misquoted. Don't get me wrong: Misquoting sucks. Good journalists, and I hope I'm one, use tape recorders whenever possible to try to avoid this. Nevertheless, and although there are certainly major exceptions, when misquotation occurs the consequences are rarely very large. Most of the time it's just "fish and chips," as Andrew Sullivan puts it: By the time you get the paper and read the misquote, it's being used to wrap somebody's lunch. The more you're in journalism, the more you realize that life just goes on, and it is the rare case indeed in which a misquotation seriously impacts someone's career. And more generally, the idea that all journalists should be punished for one journalist's error...well, that's just unfair.

4. Scientists *do* however need to be more savvy about the media, but that's very easy: Do your homework on the reporter who contacted you. This is what Google is for, no? You can find out what kind of journalist he/she is, (science or political), what he's written before, whether he's been involved in any past controversies, whether he has an ax to grind. Once you find this out, adjust your expectations accordingly--or, if it's a journalist you don't trust, avoid the interview. Or if it's somewhere in between--you're not sure what to think--ask to see your quotes to check their accuracy. (But for God's sake don't demand veto power over the story.)

5. And finally, scientists could do worse than learn about framing, especially if they're going to talk to the media. But that's a whole 'nother can of worms....

More like this

But more importantly, whence this totally misplaced beating up on science writers in particular?

Many news articles about science are written by reporters who do not usually cover science. They make many errors, and these errors are high impact.

Science journalists as a whole are probably the most specialized and best trained journalists around. Many hold Ph.D.s, sometimes even in the fields they cover.

Barring a few exceptions, their articles have tiny audiences compared to the drek that appears in the 'science&tech' section of a typical newspaper.
Do you really expect that you, Andy Revkin, Carl Zimmer, and about 5 others like you have the impact of the endless horde of 'science&tech' news bites by reporters who do not normally do science? If so, think again; science reporters like you and Andy have always been about, and tried hard to have an impact on the public's perception of science, but curiously, the generation that grew up when Sagan was enormously popular largely supported the Republican war on science (by which I mean the assault described in the book, not the book itself). If a few good science reporters could make up for the widespread problems described by in that thread on Tara's blog, you would never have had reason to write your book.

Most in that thread are guilty only failing to distinguish between reporters who write bad articles about science (in part because it isn't their specialty), and science reporters who write good articles largely because they specialize.

Scientists' first target should be the press offices at their own universities. Much of scientific reporting is shaped by press releases that vary wildly in quality. The journalists often try to work the quotes of researchers into the context of an article that's basically been structured by the press release. This is why the quotes wind up seeming wildly out of context.

A great example of this is the recent ENCODE data - scientists discovered that much of the DNA in the genome is made into RNA. But they have no idea whether that RNA is functional, and the lack of evolutionary conservation suggests that it's not. Yet the press releases trumpeted the end of junk DNA, and most news reports happily went along.

To quote my own coverage:
All of this brings me back to the press release, which has set my blood boiling nearly every time I read it. It basically takes the hardcore "none of it is junk" view but then undercuts its own arguments. It states that "the new data indicate that the genome contains very little unused sequences; genes are just one of many types of DNA sequences that have a functional impact." What is that functional impact? They have no idea: "many species' genomes contain a pool of functional elements that provide no specific benefits in terms of survival or reproduction."

So, if a scientist is feeling that a journalist got them wrong, the first place they should check is close to home: their own institution's press office.

I appreciate you chiming in, Chris--the threads have been short on the journalist perspective thus far. I wrote a bit at Aetiology, but I'll paste it here to save everyone from link-hopping. I think the biggest item, for the scientist, is the misquoting/misrepresentation of views issue. From your words above, I agree with you that it's unfair to punish all for the "sins" of the few, but look at it from the scientist's point of view.

Unless you're a very big fish, you're unlikely to get interviewed all that frequently. Therefore, when it does happen, it's a bigger deal to the scientist (who may be interviewed a few times a year) than to the journalist (who may do dozens of interviews a month, if they're working for a busy daily paper). Maybe the more one is in journalism, they're more likely to realize that misquotes just happen, but *scientists usually aren't journalists.* One misquote is a big deal, whether or not it has a long-lasting detrimental effect on one's career or not. If you've been burned once already, and each interview is a chance to get burned again, I can definitely see why people think, "why bother?," especially when journalists themselves accept that occasional misquotations are an inevitable part of journalism.

I agree that more scientists need to be media-savvy, but that alone won't eliminate the problem above, which seems to be the major sticking point for many scientists.

If science journalists are not the problem (as the title of your post exclaims), then who is? If journalists are the least of our problems...then does the blame fall on the scientists and the general public, the very gap you are trying to bridge? Is dealing with and minimizing these "problems" not part of the science journalist job?

I would agree with you though that many of the comments over there are unfair and misguided....but I wouldn't jump to the conclusion that journalists don't contribute to problems in a general sense.

And I very much agree with your point #4...scientists do need to be more savvy about communication...no doubt!

I also second Jennifer Ouellette that sometimes scientists get too miffed about being misquoted. Don't get me wrong: Misquoting sucks. Good journalists, and I hope I'm one, use tape recorders whenever possible to try to avoid this. Nevertheless, and although there are certainly major exceptions, when misquotation occurs the consequences are rarely very large. Most of the time it's just "fish and chips," as Andrew Sullivan puts it: By the time you get the paper and read the misquote, it's being used to wrap somebody's lunch. The more you're in journalism, the more you realize that life just goes on, and it is the rare case indeed in which a misquotation seriously impacts someone's career. And more generally, the idea that all journalists should be punished for one journalist's error...well, that's just unfair.
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You have to realize for junior faculty members though the risks are very high. Tenure decisions loom. The fear that generates creates a situations in which little things-like being misquoted- become greatly magnified. If you are not of the dominant group (i.e. not a white male) this becomes even a bigger deal as you already know you have to work harder to get the same reward.

Scientists *do* however need to be more savvy about the media, but that's very easy: Do your homework on the reporter who contacted you. This is what Google is for, no? You can find out what kind of journalist he/she is, (science or political), what he's written before, whether he's been involved in any past controversies, whether he has an ax to grind. Once you find this out, adjust your expectations accordingly--or, if it's a journalist you don't trust, avoid the interview. Or if it's somewhere in between--you're not sure what to think--ask to see your quotes to check their accuracy. (But for God's sake don't demand veto power over the story.)
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You do realize how busy PIs are don't you? Many of them are doing a poor job of being mentors and teachers (which is part of their job description). You want more time to be taken away from meeting with their students/post-docs? You may think it is just a tiny little thing but that is the mentality the universities have as well along with the journals & granting institutions. More and more is getting pushed onto scientists. Ideal world they should look them up, read their articles, etc. but the reality is just not there. Things have to change in how science is set up.

Yes, full-time science journalists are getting thin on the ground. Charlie Petit's Knight Science Journalism Tracker is a good roundup. Remember most Americans get their news from local TV. Science reporters on local TV are not so much rare as non-existent. But whatcha gonna do? Work with what you've got, if you want to make a connection to a large audience. (Yes, people really are more interested in American Idol than your research. Get over it. As for Paris, I think her 15 minutes are up.)

Regarding John Timmer's comment about ENCODE, I'm a university press officer who wrote about this story too. I think the level of detail that John is talking about here will go whistling over the heads of most people. In fact I've got a Ph.D. in biology, and I'm not sure why he's so upset about it. I guess it could be that all those RNA transcripts are non-functional junk, but it seems more likely that they're doing something. It seems like a matter for scientific debate rather than something that NIH press office or the media "got wrong." And I guess Francis Collins thought the press release was accurate enough.

BTW, I remember going to a talk over ten years ago by John Mattick of the University of Queensland, who argued that non-coding RNA is the major regulatory element in the genome and indeed enabled the leap in complexity from prokaryotes to eukaryotes.

I'm in a different niche, but I've rarely had an important scientist turn me down when I tell them I am a scientist writing books for young readers.

The fact that I am a scientist helps me get the interview. Then the questions usually get them to open up and speak directly to my audience. I can remember Joseph Engelberger, the "father of robotics" in the late 1980s rhapsodizing about the wonders of a prehensile hand when I asked if he thought he would have grown up to be a "software wizard" like so many teens of that time.

I always offer the scientists a chance to review the quotations to be included in the books, because it is as likely for them to mis-speak as it is for me to mis-transcribe, misinterpret, or misquote. Regardless of the source of the miscommunication, I want to get it right, and so does the scientist.

The key, it seems to me, is for the writer to be credible and for the audience to be important to the scientist being interviewed. The scientist and the audience need each other, but have no direct connection. A good writer or journalist can serve them both well by making that connection.

Scientists who are wary that journalists have other agendas need to be careful about accepting interviews, but they also need to be open to opportunities to explain their work to the public who, in the final analysis, supports their research through government grants or buying products.

I agree with Chris that it is sad when scientists trash the media in general because one reporter did not do a good job. Those scientists are ultimately judged by their work as it appears in the peer-reviewed journals, not by what some writer publishes about the scientist or the work.

As an aside, the one important scientist whose turndown hurt me the most was Carl Sagan. It wasn't that he didn't respect my work. In fact, he wrote me a generous letter of apology for having to do so. Still, I would have loved to include him in my To the Young Scientist: Reflections on Doing and Living Science (Franklin Watts, 1997, click my name for more).

When I read his biography a few years later, I pulled out his letter from my files. It was written the same month he got his terminal diagnosis.

Is current controversy the blowup that precedes a rapprochement? Maybe something good can come of arguing like this.

If science is to inform society, then someone needs to bring science news to the people. Scientists are not generally skilled at doing this. Who else but science journalists can do this job?

What is this fight really about? Is it related to the "framing science" argument?

Reason, rationality and science are very important, but they don't stand alone and they surely don't speak for themselves. It's a near-impossible challenge to bring these tools to bear on a public discourse. Let's not fight amongst ourselves when we all agree that we need to do a better job in bringing these tools into active use in public dialogues.

Or shall we form a circular firing squad of scientists, science journalists and our few fans in the public?

Andy -

If it's any consolation, your press release was nearly free of what bothered me, and when i said that press releases "vary wildly in quality," that was meant to indicate that some are really quite good.

The problem i have with the presentation of the ENCODE data to the public so far is that it's premised on a conclusion: if a sequence is made into RNA, it must have a function. That conclusion is based on absolutely zero evidence and, in fact, runs counter to available evidence, such as the sequences' lack of evolutionary conservation and the existence of organisms with compact genomes that lack these sequences. The data just don't support the conclusion that all this RNA is functional - in essence, the ENCODE results have shifted the "junk DNA" question from DNA to RNA without providing any answer to the fundamental question: is it junk?

What steams me is that we now have an evidence-free conclusion (it's made into RNA, so it's not junk) that is being put out to the public as if it's a fact. It not only gets this specific aspect of science wrong, it gets the process of science wrong.

Francis Collins's views on the matter notwithstanding...

I think John Timmer makes a very important point about University press offices. My local paper often prints science press releases essentially verbatim (or edited for length), and press releases seem to be the major source of science reporting on my local TV news as well. I've seen many press releases that are written to generate buzz rather than represent the science accurately.

I'm not worried so much about "simple" misquoting; who cares if my name's not spelled right or terminology gets mixed up. That's just par for the course for most media, and everybody knows this.

The kind of thing that soured me (and colleagues) on journalists is the more serious case of journalists intentionally changing quotes or other aspects to make their story, knowing that they are misrepresenting their material.

The most infuriating example was a couple of colleagues that got interviewed about a project. They could not discuss the latest - most interesting - experiments since they would be running it on a set of volunteers later that week and couldn't have anything at all published about it before it had been done. The journalist argued that she'd come a long way to talk to them (Stockholm-Lund and back is a whole day trip) and just couldn't do it again a week later - if she held off on the article until the next week, after the experiments, couldn't they describe this new, interesting stuff?

They did - and the article ran the next morning.

She was totally unapologetic; there was no confidentiality agreement, the freedom of the press to publish is paramount, and besides, another story fell through so they needed to fill the science section with something.

Meanwhile, the experiment had to be canceled and rescheduled for six months later when they could plausibly assume that the subjects, if they had seen the article, no longer remembered it (and thus could second-guess the study).

Chris, asking to see quotes does not work. I've been interviewed for the media three times. Each time I have specifically asked to be allowed to verify quotes; each time I have been promised to get to review quotes each time I have been interviewed; and I have never gotten to review quotes. I have also been misquoted every single time, including once getting to confess to criminal acts (due to series of mishaps in editing, ending up placing a joke from coworker about me as "being able to hack in and change his phone bill" to me confessing to having hacked in and changed my phone bill, which I never have).

Maybe science journalists are better than the rest, yet it would surprise me if these errors do not crop up there, too. I see it as being a result of the news process much more than a result of a particular bad apple; and a result of an attitude among the journalists of "It's not a big deal, it's just fish and chips. ... It's a rare case when it seriously impacts someone's career." (Which there is NO WAY you can know, anyway - you cannot read the minds of everybody that have not offered a job after reading a misquotation.)

By Eivind Eklund (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

This quote is posted on several blogs celebrating Oriana Fallaci:

"...who is the pioneer of modern journalism? Not Hemingway who wrote of his experiences in the trenches, not Orwell who spent a year of his life with the Parisian poor, not Egon Erwin Kisch the expert on Prague prostitutes, but Oriana Fallaci who in the years 1969 to 1972 published a series of interviews with the most famous politicians of the time. Those interviews were more than mere conversations; they were duels. Before the powerful politicians realized
that they were fighting under unequal conditions--for she was allowed to ask questions but they were not--they were already on the floor of the ring, KO'ed."
Milan Kundera.

(And here I should add: For she was allowed to edit but they were not.)

This is quoted as if Kundera were approving Fallaci's approach to journalism. But everyone who has read Kundera knows this is exactly the kind of journalism he despises, the kind of journalism that doesn't want to know what a person actually thinks but wants to create the "best" story.
The very fact that this quote is being used to say the exact opposite of what Kundera meant to say, is something I find fairly illustrative. And it's bad enough when it happens to a politician (who is, after all, seeking power, not truth or beauty), but indefensible when used against a scientist or serious artist.

Kundera has (like, say, Thomas Pynchon) not given a single interview for several decades. In his collections of essays he explains why.

So these questions are at least as relevant for artists as they are for scientists.

Now, admittedly, the example I have given seems relevant only in instances where the journalist is interested in making the interviewee seem stupider or less morally acceptable than the journalist himself. But as Kundera (and many others) show very clearly: a minor misquotation or absence of context can make the interviewee seem as if he is saying the opposite of what he is trying to say, or that he's being dogmatic when he's merely suggesting an interesting hypothesis, or (in the case of literature) that an opinion expressed by one of his characters represents the opinion of the author. And so (if it appears in a widely consumed outlet) he'll be spending the rest of his life clearing up grotesque misunderstandings. (Trivial, you say? Probably for everyone else, but not for the guy who has to deal with this shit all the time.)

(Sorry for the awful English, it's not my language.)

Frodo said:
>Kundera has (like, say, Thomas Pynchon) not given a single >interview for several decades. In his collections of essays >he explains why.

>So these questions are at least as relevant for artists as >they are for scientists.

No, Frodo, not so. Or at least, not for many (most) artists. Almost all scientists in the United States do their research in laboratories at least partly underwritten by the American tax payer. They pay their staff with grants funded almost entirely by monies from the American tax payer. The entire infrastructure that allows them to do what they do (and hence to gain tenure, etc) is paid for by the American public (read: taxpayer).

So those scientists have an obligation to speak to the press. The press reports on their doings to the people who pay their salaries, research grants and provide their laboratory space: the American public.

Artists maybe not so much. But any scientist who works in a national lab, university or even a lab in private industry (most of them accept public monies at least in part) and refuses to speak to the press is being selfish and irresponsible.

By Kim Krieger (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

I disagree, Kim. Public money should require appropriate forms of communication. You have to publish in scientific journals, where there is peer review of the contents and dissemination to the people who can best use the results. That's what the American public is paying for. Now, it's good public relations to honestly communicate those results to the public at large, so that they have a sense of what they're paying for. But such communications to the general public can almost never be of sufficiently high quality to justify the funds appropriated to the scientists, and are thus not the primary means of dissemination of the results. If I get a federal grant, I'm not obligated to open my laboratory door to the general public to have them milling about asking me questions about what I'm doing. Nor am I obligated to talk to every reported that calls. It's in my best interest to talk to them if it will result in the public getting a clear idea of the benefit of what I'm doing, but it's not in my best interest (or the best interest of the public, for that matter) to talk to reporters who are going to misrepresent my research.

By Michael Schmidt (not verified) on 20 Jun 2007 #permalink

Kim, scientists communicate openly all the time. Go to any library and you can find, or request at no cost, papers detailing every aspect of the work you have paid for as a taxpayer. Or just go to the department website and find much of the material online (frequently in defiance of journal restrictions), together with supplementary material ranging from video and pictures of the actual work, to source code anddata, to tutorials, introductory materials for hobbyists and school children and lots of helpful links to more on the subject. Larger groups or departments frequently have seminar or lecture series open to the public, and some of the more enterprising ones even film them and make it available on the net as well.

Talking to journalists simply isn't part of the job description; communicating publicly is. Considering the risk and the nonexistent upside compared to all other forms of public communication, it's not exactly surprising if a lot of people would rather forgo that opportunity.

Firmly in Kim's camp....the public certainly has a right to know what kind of research its dollars are funding. And research is communicated most broadly to that public through the media, not through lectures and seminars and posting your work online. No, scientists cannot *control* media coverage in the way that they can control these other forms of communication. But that doesn't mean they should opt to pass on it completely in favor of much smaller scale forms of sharing what they know.

There is an irony here, by the way. Scientists get understandably outraged when government researchers, like say Jim Hansen, are prevented from speaking to the media. And in this context we often hear the argument that these are scientists whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer, and therefore the Bush administration has no right to suppress them--the public has a right to know what they are doing and thinking.

And yet now we are hearing that there's no obligation for publicly funded scientists to speak to the media because the media misrepresents everything. I wonder what Hansen would say about that.

Janne said:
>Talking to journalists simply isn't part of the job >description; communicating publicly is. Considering the risk >and the nonexistent upside compared to all other forms of >public communication, it's not exactly surprising if a lot of >people would rather forgo that opportunity.

Talking to journalists is most Definitely part of the job description.

Chris elaborated on my point quite effectively and I don't want to beat a dead horse. But most scientists don't understand how absolutely inpenetrable journal articles are to the average person on the street. And even well educated folk in cities jam-packed with universities are often completely unaware of the public lecture series that go on. They just aren't well-advertised, and most people don't even know where to look.

The popular press is just about the only way most of the public is ever going to hear about research done with their tax money. And if they don't hear about it, and appreciate it, they can and will take away that tax money. Look at what happened to NASA in the past three years--all the excellent programs on climate research have been gutted to pay for the President's "Man to Mars" program. And almost no one has protested this allocation of funds--because almost no one, save people in the space and climate research communities, was even aware those climate programs existed. They thought space science was the only thing NASA did. (The climate researchers involved rarely talked to the press...after all, don't all the amazing advances in meteorology that the public benefits from every day speak for themselves?)

To some degree the evisceration of NASA's climate research was a political decision, but it was only doable because members of the public were unaware of the very existence of what they were losing.

If you are a researcher funded by the public, and you have any shred of public conscience, you will talk with the press.

By Kim Krieger (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

Talking to journalists is most Definitely part of the job description.

No, it isn't. I could take another look at my employment contract if you want, but "talking to the media" is not there, not in any form. Neither has it been there in any previous employment agreement, from graduate school onwards. The requirement is public outreach - nowhere is there an expectation that this must take the form of talking to reporters.

Look, when scientists agree to talk with journalists, they do so not because they have to; they do so because they themselves feel it is important for their field and for the society they live in. Some undoubtedly also do so because they like getting attention of course - we're no different than anybody else. So of course people will give up if they have bad experiences with the media. Even Chris here is being disingenious in his last comment, implicitly equalizing a right with an obligation ("everything allowed is mandatory") in an example that has nothing to do with the issue at hand. If he - and he's one of the good guys - can't refrain from that kind of distortion, why is it so strange if so many people are wary or hostile towards the media?

While I agree that "the public certainly has a right to know what kind of research its dollars are funding", there are many ways this can be satisfied.

It simply does not equate to "a responsibility on the part of every scientist to talk to members of the media directly".

If the Public Communications department at Hansen's own employer (NASA) had been doing it's job properly, Hansen would not have had to go to the media on his own.

I don't know whether it is written into Hansen's employment contract to talk directly to the media (I doubt it), but I'd say that it almost certainly is the NASA Public Communications Department's job to tell the public about what NASA scientists are up to -- and to do so in a way that does not misrepresent the science or censor the scientists.

Talk about irony. Hansen and others were actually instructed not to talk directly with the media (presumably as part of their "unofficial" job description) without the presence of NASA "monitors/handlers" -- which, of course, is one of the primary things Hansen had such a big issue with.

Finally, I would just point out that to interview a scientist is not some "right" possessed by journalists -- like "freedom of the press", "the pursuit of happiness" and "the free lunch". It's a "privilege," and they should treat it as such.

Journalists should make every effort to ensure that they are as accurate as possible not only with regard to quoting the scientist but also with regard to representing the science.

By Dark Tent (not verified) on 21 Jun 2007 #permalink

horribly late to the discussion here...apologies if repeating what's been said.

Michael Schmidt's "appropriate venues for communication" being the primary means of disseminating information is one of the more important consideration here. i've been a huge proponent of science communication and scientists' need to interact in multiple new venues (print, radio, interviews, whatever) for scientific literacy to improve in this country. but what everyone seems to be talking around is prioritization.

federal funds are awarded to researchers for the primary purpose of performing. private foundations will often ask an awardee to give a public talk on their research - it's one of the contingencies of receiving the monies. but the NIH Public Access Policy for awardees states only the following:

"NIH-funded investigators are requested to submit to the NIH manuscript submission (NIHMS) system at PubMed Central an electronic version of the author's final manuscript upon acceptance for publication, resulting from research supported in whole or in part with direct costs from NIH...The Policy applies to peer-reviewed, original research publications that have been supported in whole or in part with direct costs from NIH, but it does not apply to book chapters, editorials, reviews, or conference proceedings." (see here for quoted announcement)

that's the closest it gets, folks. perhaps changing the contingencies established by the NIH and other granting agencies would encourage scientists' participation in more mass media communication...and academia's acceptance of it. the arrival of other non-R01 type grants promoting science communication is fantastic, but again i doubt that faculty, particularly if untenured, are the target audience. many of us get funded by the federal government, and most of us hardly have enough time to follow the established guidelines, much less pursue larger-scale involvement. many of us would love to extend our work to larger audiences, but it simply takes time away from things that have more of a direct impact on future research and academic livelihood.

while ponderingfool's comment about the risks being particularly high for interviews-gone-bad and misrepresentation is certainly a factor, i think the heart of the matter is in his concern that scientists continue to be judged almost exclusively on this peer-reviewed work. it would be lovely if academia was a bit more liberal in their definition of what consistutes worthwhile scientific communication, maybe including non-peer-reviewed correspondence from scientists as another form of valuable contribution from someone in an academic position. but if your tenure committee isn't going to bat an eye, why try? again, scientists in those positions need incentives, and sadly it appears to need to come from the top and not just through personal obligation. if scientists are too heavily prioritizing peer-reviewed, intra-scientific communication because it's what's rewarded, the system is probably due for some revamping.

an inspiring alternative to systemic changes, which will take lots of time to evolve, is the 'self-selected' science communicators that chris and matt mention in their speaking science talk, and was referred to in a 2002 series of Nature opinion pieces. we also need to reward scientists that choose to leave the bench and work on advancing the public's scientific literacy through these mechanisms, as well...

1- What about all the scientists in this thread maintaining a Wiki of journalists they trust to understand and convey stories properly? something like a rating system would be useful.

2- What about all journalists doing the same with good scientists who are also good communicators?

3- and, of course, what about training both sides? Seed would be a great company to launch such an initiative-and channel all the hundreds of posts I have seen into something more productive

its great to read your blog!

By swati bute (not verified) on 01 Aug 2007 #permalink