Since the deadline for handing in our dissertations has just passed, I guess today marks the end of the Science Communication MSc at Imperial. I’ll probably write up some thoughts about the course in the next week, but it seems only fitting to talk about some recent research in to the relationship between science and the media.
A study published in the summer 2009 issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly has found that not only do scientists realise the importance of speaking to journalists, they’re actually happy to do it more than once. While scientists have been known to trade horror stories of interaction with the media, it seems not all of them have been scared away.
The researchers interviewed 1,200 epidemiology and stem cell scientists, whose work often sparks media interest. They found that about one-third of respondents had had up to five contacts with journalists during a three-year period, while another third experience more than six contacts in the same time frame. The remaining third had no contact at all.
Interestingly, these results are similar to previous studies in the 1980s and 1990s, suggesting that the level of contact scientists have with the media has remained consistent. In other words, they aren’t being put off by bad experiences.
One surprise is that while scientists might view the general coverage of science as poor or inaccurate, this perception does not include coverage of their own field. I would have expected it to be the other way around – a scientist is always going to be able to spot a journalists mistakes when writing about their own research!
I have to say, my experience in this past year is that once scientists are more than willing to talk about their work – and why shouldn’t they be? They obviously think that it’s important, else they wouldn’t be doing it! And if you want to spread information and let other people know why your work is important, engaging with the media is the best way to do it.