Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Can Scientists Do to Help Science Journalism?

 
This week's issue of Nature has a number of articles devoted to science journalism. Their publication coincides with the 6th World Conference of Science Journalists in London, UK.

One of the articles is an editorial, Cheerleader or watchdog?, about what scientists can do to help science journalism.
Scientists can do little to stem this bloodletting. But whatever they can do to engage with those caught up in it, and ensure that questioning and informed science journalism persists, will be worthwhile. If there is to be a transition to new — perhaps philanthropic — business models for in-depth reporting or new types of analytical media, science journalism will integrate into them all the better if scientists are taking an active interest in its health. And if the future of the media truly is a dire landscape of top-100 lists, shouting heads and minimal attention span, then such efforts might at least defer the grim end.

Even amid the turmoil, however, scientists can help ensure that reporting about science continues to be both informed and accurate.
I agree that scientists should work on trying to make science reporting more accurate. So far, we haven't been too successful.

But there's another important contribution we can make. We can help clean up our own act so that less bad science is published. This will not only make science better, it will have the spin-off effect of making life easier for science journalists. At the very least, we should make sure that press releases coming from our institutions are accurate. Every scientists should have to stand behind and endorse the press releases from their supporting institution. Let's take responsibility.

Also, wouldn't it be nice if most of the papers published in the scientific literature were careful to put their work in the proper perspective? Wouldn't it be nice if scientists themselves stopped exaggerating their contributions and stopped making outrageous claims? Science journalists have not done a good job of sifting the wheat from the chaff, in spite of what they think. They are far from blameless but scientists carry a bigger share of the blame for the sorry state of science literacy.


2 comments :

  1. "Also, wouldn't it be nice if most of the papers published in the scientific literature were careful to put their work in the proper perspective? Wouldn't it be nice if scientists themselves stopped exaggerating their contributions and stopped making outrageous claims?"

    Does this have to do at least in part with competition for funding?

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  2. Perhaps some scientists mistake the exaggerated statements common to grant proposals with what the public should be hearing.

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