Thursday, February 19, 2015

Who's to blame for bad science communication?

Most of us agree that there's a problem. A lot of what passes as science isn't being correctly communicated to the general public.

Lot's of people share the blame but I tend to focus on those people whose job is science communication. It must be true that science journalists aren't doing as good a job as they should.

A few years ago I attended a meeting on "The Two Cultures" in New York City. E.O. Wilson gave the plenary talk and he explained why everyone likes scenery that resembles the African savannah. It's because that's where humans originated [E.O. Wilson in New York]. The science journalists who were there applauded enthusiastically. I didn't.

Later on there was a session on science communication featuring a panel of science journalists. They insisted that the problems were not their fault. They can only rely on what scientists are telling them and that's what they report. Elizabeth Pennisi would be proud.

Carl Zimmer pointed out that it is important for science journalists to have a good source of scientists they can call on for advice whenever they are working on a new story. The other journalists didn't get it.

Richard Lenksi wonders who's to blame and he has created a poll [Science Communication: Where Does the Problem Lie?]. Go and vote.


  1. Seems to me the fault in your example lies on E.O. Wilson, not the science journalists who made the reasonable, if incorrect, assumption that a well known scientist was saying something meaningful. It's kind of the obligation for scientists not to tell journalists silly things, or if they do, at least make it clear they weren't entirely serious.

  2. I voted for "Other intermediaries such as businesses, politicians, and religious leaders." At 8:35 PM EST, 75 voters out of 232 agreed with me

  3. University public relations officers are mainly to blame. That is, university policy. Not by the scientists, but by the topmanagement. My university's website starts with self congratulation and repeats self congratulation at each click, and it takes an advance course in web skills to find a research group.

  4. This seems to be a prime example of self-congratulation:

    1. I can't believe the disclaimer at the bottom! Any "news" source that ends with that should be ignored....

      "Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system."

  5. Back in the days before the internet was more generally available and useful, the U of Chicago had a very clever PR device: a small book for science writers/reporters, organized by subject, with the contact info for U of Chicago profs. Made it easy for reporters to get info on a subject, and just incidentally get the names of U of C and U of C people into news stories.