Science causes blindness!! Story inside…

Breakthroughs in science and technologies are happening at a rapid pace, with discoveries being made nearly every day that could have a dramatic impact on our society. Yet, as these stories grow more numerous and more complex, the number of media personnel devoted exclusively to covering such issues is diminishing. Jay Ingram, former host of the Daily Planet, notes that the current number of science journalists in newsrooms is half of what it was when he began reporting 30 years ago. And even then, he adds, there were not enough people to cover all the stories.

This staff reduction does not necessarily represent a lack of interest in science and engineering on the public's behalf, but rather, it reflects the economic difficulties faced by modern press agencies dealing with fewer subscribers and less advertising revenue, as well as the political ramifications of living in a world dominated by foreign wars and recession.

 It is therefore heartening to see the development of the Science Media Centre of Canada (SMCC). Set up at the end of last year, this non-profit organization seeks to address the resource gaps and spread of misinformation that are a common issue in modern, busy newsrooms. I attended a Calgary launch event for the Centre last Thursday, which featured a panel of speakers from television and academia. Led by Ingram, the group spoke honestly about the problems journalists face with trying to take a complex, often long-winded technical subject and boil it down to an "exciting" 300-word news summary, or one-minute TV clip.

This simplification —€” without having a full understanding —€” of the topic is what often leads to the spread of confusing, or even dangerous, misinformation (think of the damage done by the vaccine-causes-autism story a few years ago). The SMCC aims to prevent such distortions of the truth by providing journalists with researched background kits on a given topic, as well as putting them in touch with reliable experts. Taking that a step further, the Centre also seeks to put science and technology stories back into the headline news. Here at Cybera, we're excited to get involved with such a worthwhile endeavor!

The best way to get the public interested in scientific and engineering research is to engage with them through media and online discussions. This was one of the biggest takeaway messages of the Canadian Science Writers Association's annual conference, which I also attended last week. Communications experts and scientists expressed concern over the growing ignorance of the general populace to the serious scientific issues of the day, such as climate change. The best way to overcome such illiteracy is with logical, proven information.

So, what are the best ways for scientists and technologists to get their facts out there?

  • Publish a blog
  • Take part in a discussion group
  • Make your research available for FREE online
  • Tweet about any misinformation you see in the news
  • Most importantly – make yourself available to the media or public to answer any questions they have!

What else should we be doing to raise awareness of what's going on in our industry? How are you contributing to the public discussion? Leave your comments below.