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Saturday, 11 April 2009

Another take on science in the media

It is always interesting to see how other people view the strange business of science communication. The latest example to come across the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining where Rupal Mehta has written a detailed piece Lost in translation? Science in the media.

Rupal compares science communication with bringing a product to market. Companies would never go about this, she says, "without doing their homework and establishing good links with the rest of the supply chain. Communicating with the media is no different, she explains, "every link in the chain, be it scientists, press officers or journalists, has its role to play. When one element is ‘faulty’ or does not do its job properly, the quality of the output is affected."

The article has plenty of quotes from various players in the process, on such topics as the MMR saga. The blame this one, it seems, "rests squarely at the feet of the media," according to Tom Sheldon, Engineering Press Officer at the Science Media Centre.

There are, though, times when companies have to shoulder the blame. Take coverage of research into fuel-efficient and quieter aircraft engines. No one has written about this, preferring to chew over the local and environmental implications of a new runway at UK’s Heathrow Airport.

Tom Sheldon has tried. "We phone the press officers for the big companies, and are often told there is no-one available, or are issued with a statement. I understand there is a confidentiality issue, but if you don’t put the record straight, then you only have yourselves to blame."

Rupal's view is that good science press officers can act as "the vital third link in the chain" between scientists and the media. "The relationship between the scientist and the press officer is key – ‘bad’ science journalism can sometimes be down to miscommunication between these two elements."