The article reviewed here is an open access article ‘Bridging the Divide Between Science and Journalism’ by Jennifer Strohm and colleagues and available here. In the abstract, the authors write that
‘…it is imperative that scientists know how to communicate their latest findings through the appropriate channels. The credible media channels are managed by working journalists, so learning how to package vast, technical research in a form that is appetizing and “bite-sized” in order to get their attention, is an art‘
The authors have written an article which reflects many of the values espoused within the article itself – it is concise, written in simple language and broken down into small paragraphs. The article contains a number of tips for scientists about how to communicate their stories to the media. At least one of the authors has a background in journalism (after I did a quick search)*. I interpreted the article as one which gives the scientist an overview of how science journalists operate and what their expectations might be.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the issue of how science is communicated to journalists is an area that could be addressed within the scientific community. To expand on this, I would argue that the scientists that author a paper are in the best position to do the work for the journalists. Now it might seem strange for me to say this. After all, isn’t that what the journalists are there to do? I would respond by saying that communication is a two-way process and that delegating to one party is missing the point.
Surely the body of scientific knowledge should be applied to the problem of communicating science in the first instance. If the process of discovering truth is not communicated effectively, then that ‘truth’ is effectively lost. Therefore if all the resources are put into discovering the ‘truth’ without any being allocated to communicating those results, there is a considerable possibility that most of those resources ultimately will be lost. How many papers have been published and how many articles are now collecting dust, never to be cited or indeed read again?
Indeed that leads onto another question. Of all the papers that have ever been published what percentage of them have had no impact whatsoever? Obviously this depends on the definition of ‘impact’. It could be argued that they all have an impact to some extent. People get experience from writing the papers. The editors read the papers and surely some of the readership will read even the most unpopular of papers in a journal. But just suppose we could say that a paper had no impact and that this was meaningful. If we look back through history what percentage of all papers would fit this category and is there any way we could predict which category an article would fall into? A paper might be rediscovered at a later point and the reader might then make some useful connections in which case how would we ever know that a paper has had or ever will have an impact. Obviously a line has to be drawn somewhere.
Perhaps more resources should be allocated into deciding how useful papers are. The possibility of losing valuable information by this means would be more than compensated for by using the available knowledge usefully. Returning to the earlier theme maybe a significant proportion of the journal article submission should be allocated to an easy-to-understand summary. If authors were required to do this then not only would journalists be able to understand it more easily, but so too would the reviewers, editors, readership and general public. Perhaps this has been the price that science has paid for delegating communication of science to the media.This however is beginning to change as the mainstream media with established television, radio and newspapers are being joined by the web 2.0 technologies which scientists are successfully navigating in order to communicate their work. In this environment a new relationship is being forged between science and media and both scientists and science journalists are continuing to adapt to these new changes.
*There is also a conflict of interest declaration
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