3.6.1 The evolution of the relationship between science and the media
Nearly all of the scientists interviewed think that the communication of science and its relationship with the media are different now than from when they started their careers. The ways in which the situation is different are however subject to different interpretations. Many respondents tend to judge this trend positively, though there are some who think that the situation is worse now than it was in the past.
The big jump – according to many – was caused by the internet, which strongly accelerated the pace of science and research by making it easier to obtain and disseminate information on nearly every topic and thus by stimulating scientists to communicate outside their usual circles:
The few detractors of this phenomenon complain that the amount of available data is too much to handle, which in turn makes it difficult to discern the good from the bad information:
Among the other positive changes identified by interviewees, media interest is thought to have increased and the coverage improved (though still insufficient) in terms of being more professional and balanced than previously. Audiences addressed by the media are also more sophisticated to the extent that both sides – media and science – can be guilty of "spinning" of a story. Another factor that is seen to influence positively on media coverage is the increased awareness of the need to communicate among researchers to better reach the wider public and to have wider access to funding:
The pessimistic researchers – who are more likely to be among the older age groups – tend to have a nostalgic view of science and research back in the old times. They are mainly critical of the current commercial trend in the media, and evoke the better quality of journalists, the media, and science in general. Some go further and feel that the impression conveyed is that science is irresponsible now. The situation might be more dynamic but it is also more sensation-seeking:
For the few younger researchers who were interviewed, many of whom experienced a fluent relationship with the internet from the outset of their careers, the external changes are not that evident. Researchers in the younger age groups are more inclined to associate the changes with individual experiences and a personal maturity process than with big outer trends such as the internet:
3.6.2 Prospects for the future
Aspirations for the future of media communication of science are for more balanced treatment of science in the media – including a wider coverage vis-à-vis other topics –, achieving a better indepth understanding, taking more holistic viewpoints and improvement of the factual basis of what is presented. Some people working in the EU-15 Member States want to see a return to the public enthusiasm for science that used to be evident and which is more commonly observed in developing countries. Researchers in the more advanced countries agree that there is a need to help society to grapple with the uncertainties in science to better digest its news. But notwithstanding the challenges, researchers are conscious that they have a strong role to play in the quest for facilitating the access of science to the wider public.
Some see a need to make more conscious attempts to embed scientific knowledge into everyday life, not least so that it is not viewed as an odd or separate activity. It is difficult to communicate complex issues to the public and the public currently have a different perception of scientists and scientific endeavour from the reality. Some argue that science is far more cross-cutting and multicomponent than is portrayed by the media and that social sciences need to be brought more regularly into the scenario so that research is not just seen as comprising the traditional physical sciences:
It is perceived that governments and policy-makers – both at national and European levels – should also promote initiatives to enhance the correct dissemination of science among the younger generations. Science education at schools and universities, as well as science dissemination through public TV, should be legitimated by political authorities with a view of strengthening the longer-term impacts of science communication:
Specific ideas for the future include a perceived need for funding agencies to provide support for scientists to do the communication work – in the same way as ethical audits are now required.
More honest face-to-face communication must be fostered between science and the media through concepts like a “scientific attaché" or “journalist in residence". Science journalism certainly needs to be developed and recognised and the media must assume the role of an actor creating links between the long term and the present position:
3.6.3 Improving communication of science: efforts from both sides
Many scientists recognise the need for action in the scientific community as well as in the world of the media. There is a need to get scientists more interested in the media through initiatives such as promoting media fellowships or placement programmes. Scientifically trained people are needed in the media so that the media can come to better understand scientific issues. There is certainly a perceived need for better two-way dialogue perhaps stimulated through events like joint workshops or science shows for media audiences:
Among the many things that the media can do, editors need to be persuaded of the importance of communicating science in a responsible way. Continuous contact and time are needed to absorb and explain difficult issues. The range of subject material is a further problem. There needs to be more media emphasis on the mindset of innovation and the contribution this can make in terms of benefits to society.
Dialogue is very important and it is a two-way process dependent on both parties and the dynamics of it need to be learned both ways. There is value in using vehicles/messages that can be assimilated readily and using the social impact as a route into the underlying science. In addition to this change in attitude, there are also specific tools – such as codes of practice, peer-reviews, and check-lists – that could improve the quality of media’s coverage of science:
Scientists put too little emphasis on communication. Respondents believe that it is very important that researchers assume communication of science as a core component of their work instead of considering it as an extra activity to be pursued whenever their agendas allow for. This is a change that needs to be encouraged at institutional level, as researchers usually have little or no incentives to strengthen this important aspect of their work. Changes can be fostered through various initiatives.
Scientists need to be trained in the presentation of results – even to their own community. At institutional level, periods of time need to be set aside for journalists and events staged for the media to attend that portray science outcomes. Scientists might be trained in media communication but learning on the job from experienced science communicators would be a better approach - preferably when they are young. Then they would learn how to contact and prepare for the media:
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.2 ABOUT THE STUDY
1.3 PROFILE OF RESEARCHERS INTERVIEWED
2.0 SUMMARY OF KEY FINDINGS
2.1 COMMUNICATING SCIENCE AND RESEARCH – SPECIFIC EXPERIENCES
2.2 MEDIA COVERAGE OF SCIENCE
2.3 MEDIA COVERAGE OF EUROPEAN FUNDED SCIENCE
2.4 TYPES OF SUPPORT FOR SCIENTISTS IN COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
2.5 FUTURE CHALLENGES OF COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
2.6 SEGMENTATION OF RESPONSES ACCORDING TO RESEARCHER CHARACTERISTICS
3.0 INTERVIEW RESULTS
3.1 SCIENTISTS AND THE MEDIA – AN OVERALL VIEW
3.2 COMMUNICATING SCIENCE AND RESEARCH – SPECIFIC EXPERIENCES
3.3 MEDIA COVERAGE OF SCIENTIFIC TOPICS
3.4 MEDIA COVERAGE OF EUROPEAN FUNDED SCIENCE
3.5 TYPES OF SUPPORT FOR SCIENTISTS IN COMMUNICATING SCIENCE
4.0 MAIN CONCLUSIONS
5.0 ANNEX – INTERVIEW DISCUSSION GUIDE