playing the media game?

In an article entitled Finding and projecting the voice of science and engineering , Bob Ward highlights how the media are more concerned about being impartial than accurate on scientific issues such as global warming.  This can lead to theories which are not believed by the majority of the scientific community being given significant coverage within mainstream media.  He goes on to say that any disagreements within the scientific community which around these issues are exaggerated by the ‘sceptics’ to discredit the generally held consensus.

Bob suggests scientists play the media game by getting involved in public debates and employing a number of media savvy methods including;

·         Using key phrases or sound bites

·         Making use of friendly journalists

·         Responding rapidly to events

·         Rebutting the opposition

.         Mounting media campaigns

I agree with some of this to some extent.  I believe a rapid response to events can be important and opportunities should be taken to address the opponents.  I also believe that Bob misses out on some of the key issues and some of his comments could lead to counterproductive actions.

It might seem obvious to some but the article doesn’t explain why pubic opinion is so important.  In a paper on the IPCC website entitled “The role of the IPCC and Key elements of the IPCC assessment process” there are several references to policy makers and governments but no reference to the public .  This could suggest that they do not believe that they do not have a role in communicating with the public or being part of public debate.  This view was recently reinforced by  Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC who refused to apologise for misleading information which was included within an IPCC report as he felt that would be a populist thing to do;

“I don’t do too many populist things, that’s why I’m so unpopular with a certain section of society,” he said.

The suggestion of focusing on friendly journalists and the implied suggestion of downplaying any disagreements within the scientific community could be seen as a motive for scientists to abuse the peer review process and boycott media outlets that provide a voice to critics.  These allegations were recently made against scientists involved in climate change research.

For me the main point that has come out of the recent climategate scandal is that scientists should be completely open, honest and transparent about their work, including anything which contradicts their main findings.  If they do not then they will probably be found out by the media and they will discredit themselves and their work.

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