World Federation of
Science Journalists

Scientists Respect Science Journalists

July 7, 2008 posted in Sci.Journalism 6 comments >>

The more often scientists interact with science journalists, the more they appreciate their work.

This statement is not in the paper, "but it is still true", said Hans Peter Peters, main author of the study to the World Federation of Science Journalists. "There is indeed a small, yet statistically significant, association between frequency of contact and general evaluation of contacts: the more contact, the more positive the evaluation (of the work of the journalists)." "... overall the actual experiences of scientists with the media do not discourage them to agree to further contacts", said Dr. Peters.

Dr. Peters and his colleagues of the team that conducted the survey have accepted to respond to your comments posted on the WFSJ website about the paper published in the 11 July 2008 edition of Science. We have posted an excerpt from a previous exchange with him as the first comment, below.

The authors of the study conclude: "interactions between scientists and journalists are more frequent and smooth than previously thought". They state that the communication of science to the public "may be a global phenomenon in democratic knowledge societies".

This is exactly what the Constitution of the World Federation of Science Journalists says!

The 5-country study was entirely funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the research initiative "Knowledge for decision-making processes - research on the relationship between science, politics and society". Information about that research program can be found at http://www.sciencepolicystudies.de/en/index.htm

Read the news releases produced by the different research teams:

-Forschungszentrum Julich (Germany): http://www.fz-juelich.de/portal/index.php?cmd=show&mid=610&index=163
- University of Wisconsin-Madison: http://www.news.wisc.edu/15383
- University College London: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/ucl-sgh070808.php

and the Science article 'Interactions with the Mass Media' by Hans Peter Peters (Germany), Dominique Brossard (USA), Suzanne de Cheveigné, ( France ), Sharon Dunwoody (USA), Monika Kallfass (Germany), Steve Miller (UK) and Shoji Tsuchida (Japan) in the 11 July 2008 issue of Science. Click here for the article




Comments
Selection of countries for the study
posted on July 19, 2008 by  Hans Peter Peters
The comment by Esther Nakkazi shows his disappointment that we didn't include more countries and especially countries from less industrialized parts of the world. I understand that very well.

We would certainly have liked to include more countries in our study but we were constrained in several respects (not to mention the funding problem): (1) The role of public science communication is different in developing and industrialized countries. This difference - and the consequences for scientists' involvement - could be subject of a specialized research project but our study was done in the context of a research program focusing on the role of science in "developed" countries. So selected those countries that were the five major R&D countries at the time when the decision was made. (2) Our survey methodology requires a certain size of the research communities in the countries involved. In Germany, France and Great Britain this meant that we didn't even draw a sample but included all identified researchers of the two research fields studied. In countries with smaller research systems there wouldn't simply be enough researchers in clearly defined research fields to allow meaningful cross-national comparisons. Another - perhaps qualitative - methodology or another sampling strategy based on broader fields would have to be used in a comparison of a larger set of countries. (3) The more countries are involved the more complex becomes the management of a project. In our project all partners contributed to the development of the questionnaire, the discussion about survey procedures, and the analysis and interpretation of data. We exchanged hundreds of emails in the three-year project term discussing all aspects of our research. This was a very satisfying and fruitful experience - and successful, but it was also lengthy at times. It has become quite clear to me that projects including significantly more countries must be based on a different organizational structure.

We would have ideas, however, how to do a survey of scientists in a larger set of countries. If somebody knows a funder for such a research project we are certainly ready to prepare a proposal, take the money, build a new research team and start off again.
posted on July 16, 2008 by  Esther Nakkazi
Scientists are not yet very free with the press in Africa. I wonder what the results would be like if the survey covered it too.
Science in Public
posted on July 15, 2008 by  Niall Byrne
An interesting discussion. For us, in our professional practice it boils down to two perspectives.

Many scientists fear the media and don't interact. Once they start to interact they realise that most journalists most of the time are looking for a good, accurate information story. That's the nature of most science stories. They discover that journalists are smart, broadly informed, but working against what (to the scientists) seem like ridiculous deadlines - on the hour every hour for radio news for example.

So, when scientists start to interact with journalists they learn the limitations of the media and learn to work with journalists.

Then they meet Pallab... and his peers - the senior investigative reporters whose job is to be sceptical, to review and critique.

In short, yes, most science interactions with journalists are collaborative. Then you hit the big time, or the hot issue and things are a bit tougher. But they should be, especially if you're doing big science and/or have big claims.

posted on July 14, 2008 by  Hans Peter Peters
I agree completely that the journalistic profession should not seek its destination in pleasing its sources. That scientists are suprisingly positive about their own media experiences must not be misunderstood as a valid quality judgment about science journalism.

The smoothness may actually be caused by a tame science journalism, or by scientists using criteria of political communication (e.g. persuasion, positive image) rather than (scientific) criteria of validity and usefulness of information.

However, the one clearly good message is that scientists are motivated to interacting with journalists - despite concerns - and that the actual experiences with journalists do not discourage them.
President
posted on July 14, 2008 by  Pallab Ghosh
Is it necessarily a good thing that we have such a smooth interaction with the scientific community? Maybe we should be ruffling a few more feathers. Would foreign correspondents, for example, pleased to hear that the government of the country they were covering delighted by their reporting?

Obviously as Science Journalists we should ensure we report accurately. But our job now is to do more than translate and it is no longer to popularise. Our main purpose is to challenge.
Institutionalization of contacts
posted on July 9, 2008 by  Hans Peter Peters
"I interpret our data as indicating an "institutionalization" of media contacts: they are less at the discretion of researchers and dependent on their attitudes but rather in some situations required and expected (by the media, by research organization, perhaps also by the scientic community) - as a kind of duty. Subjective factors are generally less powerful predictors for frequency of contacts than are reputation (number of scientific publications) and management position."

Hans Peter

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