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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Science and media: It helps not to be an arrogant bastard

From the recent Pew Report, we learn:

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media
Scientific Achievements Less Prominent Than a Decade Ago (July 9, 2009)

While the public holds scientists in high regard, many scientists offer unfavorable, if not critical, assessments of the public’s knowledge and expectations. Fully 85% see the public’s lack of scientific knowledge as a major problem for science, and nearly half (49%) fault the public for having unrealistic expectations about the speed of scientific achievements.

A substantial percentage of scientists also say that the news media have done a poor job educating the public. About three-quarters (76%) say a major problem for science is that news reports fail to distinguish between findings that are well-founded and those that are not. And 48% say media oversimplification of scientific findings is a major problem. The scientists are particularly critical of television news coverage of science. Just 15% of scientists rate TV coverage as excellent or good, while 83% say it is only fair or poor. Newspaper coverage of science is rated somewhat better; still, barely a third (36%) of the scientists say it is excellent or good, while 63% rate it as only fair or poor.
Well, if it's not their job to educate the public, it's not the news media's either. Story of my life: There is only so much you can do in 750 words.

By the way, if news reports distinguished between findings that are well founded and findings that are not, all but 5% of everything written on evolutionary psychology could hit the recycler, bypassing the press.

It would suit me fine. There might be space for something more educational than "The gene that makes you want to shop" and "The brain module that makes you tip more." But is that what the U.S. scientists really want? I've yet to get a straight answer out of many of them.

Overall, the American scientists come off as legends in their own minds, believing they are much better than anyone else worldwide - we heard it from them first, remember?

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