Who’s teaching the journalists science?

Facilitating clear, accurate science journalism has two parts: getting scientists to communicate their expertise in ways coherent to others, and getting journalists to communicate this to their wide variety of readers, quickly, in limited space. While some efforts are being made at improving scientists’ communication of their work to the outside world, less has been done to aid those in the media in improving their grasp of science.

Good science journalism is important because it informs the public – who in a democracy should ultimately be driving policy and funding – and students in schools and universities. It inspires students by revealing the importance and wonder of the cutting edge of scientific work. Unchanged media releases (from which someone, somewhere, stands to profit), or poorly/inaccurately changed ones, are hallmarks of bad science journalism. Bad science journalism has its roots in two sets of structures: the tight deadlines and need for ‘newsworthy’ (exciting, dramatic) stories that are understandable to a public who are not necessarily scientifically literate; and the unfortunate division between ‘artsy’ and ‘sciencey’ people, which starts to emerge in high school and means that those who pursue journalism tend to fall into the former category rather than the latter. The answer, says an Australian professor who teaches science journalism, is better science education for everyone, including journalists.