Scientists and journalists discuss collaboration

10/28/11 Jean Henry Telcy
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About 80 people listened to leaders in journalism and science discuss the relationship between media and the scientific establishment in this event co-hosted by the University of South Florida. One of the organizers was Mary Woolley, President and CEO of Research!America, an alliance aimed at “making research to improve health a higher national priority.”

According to Claudia Dreifus, interviewer for the science section of the New York Times, the role of journalists in this relationship should not be one of an advocate, but rather an educator. She believes the journalist’ duty is to inform, not defend.

The role of the journalist as an advocate was also called into question. Do the media have a responsibility to challenge policymakers about the merits of new research or is that a task best left to scientists? Staffing cuts in newsrooms across the country have led to a shortage of specialty journalists, including science reporters. Dreifus says many of these cuts are thought to happen because science news writing doesn’t attract advertising revenue; but she says these claims have no merit.

Panel members stressed the necessity of communication skills, even in a society that increasingly gets its news from social media. Woolley was in agreement that even with Twitter and Facebook and blogging, it is the journalist’s duty to bridge the gap between scientists and the public by presenting new research in perspective and in language that is easy to understand.

In a poll conducted by Research!America, only 18% of Floridians could name a living scientist.

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