[ASC-list] Study shows that scientists see the bright side of working with the media

Jenni Metcalfe jenni at econnect.com.au
Thu Jul 17 01:47:32 UTC 2008

Scientists see bright side of working with media
MADISON - Once upon a time in the world of science, sharing your work with
the press was heresy.
Journalists, according to the common wisdom, would get it wrong, your
research would be distorted, and your colleagues would see you as little
more than a shameless grandstander. Scientist popularizers such as the late
Carl Sagan, a master of adroit science communication, were excoriated by
some of their colleagues for the questionable practice of trying to make
science accessible.
But a sea change is under way, it seems. In a report published this week
(July 11, 2008) in the journal Science, an international team of
communications researchers reports that relationships between scientists and
journalists are now more frequent and far smoother than the anecdotal horror
stories scientists routinely share.
"Scientists actually see rewards in this process, not just pitfalls," says
Sharon Dunwoody, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of journalism
and a co-author of the new report.
What's more, a majority of scientists surveyed - 57 percent - found their
"latest appearance in the media" to be a mostly positive experience, while
only 6 percent were unhappy with the journalistic outcome.
The Science report is based on a survey of more than 1,300 researchers in
five countries: France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United
States. The poll revealed that, for the most part, scientists felt their
work was portrayed accurately, explained well, and that news reports were
generally complete and unbiased. Journalists, according to survey
respondents, were perceived as responsible and informed in their reporting.
The new study was directed by Hans Peter Peters of the Forschungszentrum
Jülich, Germany, and sampled researchers in two broad and well-covered
scientific fields, epidemiology and stem cell research.
The results of the survey suggest that scientists' perspectives of the news
media have evolved during the past 15 years, says Dominique Brossard, a
UW-Madison professor of journalism who is also a co-author of the report.
"Clearly, the survey shows that scientists see interactions with journalists
as necessary," Brossard explains. "We don't have to convince the scientists
anymore. We're beyond that."
Although scientists may no longer need to be persuaded to engage
journalists, many still view the practice of journalism as incompatible with
scientific culture. However, that perception, say the authors of the new
report, seems to be more nuanced than in the past.
What may be driving the change in scientists' behavior, according to
Dunwoody, is the prospect of rewards. Science that is more visible appears
more credible to potential funders, and news coverage may enhance individual
scientists' career prospects. Another driver, say Dunwoody and Brossard, is
that scientists see a benefit of greater public understanding of the
scientific enterprise through news coverage of research.
The survey, which included responses from 358 U.S. scientists, indicated few
differences in scientists' perceptions of interacting with journalists from
country to country, possibly because the cultural norms of science are
The scientists in the survey who interacted most with journalists tended to
be more senior, more productive researchers, suggesting that journalists do
a better job than scientists think of finding the best people to talk to.
"Journalists are attending to the highly productive scientists," Dunwoody
explains. "That's good news and gives less credibility to the notion that
journalists pay too much attention to outliers."
The survey also suggests scientists are becoming more knowledgeable about
how journalists work and are thus more skilled at working with reporters.
"Scientists in this survey are quite savvy in their interactions," says
Although the results of the poll are generally good news for both scientists
and journalists, the researchers caution the picture is far from complete.
In some fields where social controversy is more acute - climate science and
evolutionary biology, for example - surveys might paint a different picture,
the researchers caution.
In addition to Peters, Brossard and Dunwoody, co-authors of the new report
include Suzanne de Cheveigné of the French Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, Monika Kallfass of Forschungszentrum Jülich, Steve Miller of
University College London and Shoji Tsuchida of Kansai University Osaka. The
study was funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research.

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