Science in the Media

February 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm (Public Relations) (, , , )

Today we had a guest speaker from SMC (Science Media Centre) who introduced us into the world of reporting science accurately. Basically they do the overwhelming job (it’s a small charity with only 6 people) to look at scientifically relevant news and connect top scientist to journalists to ensure the news gets out there with sound scientific basis.
I really like the idea of these news conferences, they are about quality news, quality discussions between scientists and journalists. SMC is there as a science PR (but neutral) third party. As opposed to advocating for a client or organization they advocate for scientific truth. Of course as the speaker raised this issue, they can only do this because they get donations from a variety of sources so they can afford to be neutral.  He explained that he is aware that if organizations like the SMC are funded by big institutions or the government that it is more likely that neutrality come into question or disappears altogether.

I really value the cause of SMC especially in a media environment where concerns about  bird flu, swine flu and all sort of other diseases are very likely to be amplified by the media.
For example in my home country Hungary, there was a huge panic about swine flu. being a small country with a small economy one company got the right to  produce the vaccination. All sort of speculations where made about how will it affect children, babies, pregnant women. There where even rumors that the vaccine itself is dangerous or ineffective. This ended up dividing public opinion into two camps. There were those afraid of the flu and got vaccinated and those who didn’t trust the company nor the vaccine so stayed away from the needle. The government also tried to step in to encourage people to get immunization, but this made thing worse in the eyes of the skeptics.

The point is there would have been an independent organization with authority they could have managed a situation like this much more. People didn’t know who they could trust and panic is the worst thing that can happen. The media added on this, by tracing single cases of the flu, report in deaths, reminding of other past deaths. When there were no deaths, their focus turned   on neighboring Ukraine, where reportedly the absence of a vaccine made life even worse. The information void that the authorities in this case left was huge. This is why these initiatives of science having its own PR, or at least a more media facing side is essential. It benefits the scientists, the media and the public.

For more info go to:

Science Media Centre webpage

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