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bongo's avatar

How well do you think science is portrayed in the media?

Asked by bongo (4297points) May 4th, 2010

I am currently revising for an exam which contains a few questions about the public understanding of science. I was therefore wondering what you lovely people on fluther think about the current state of communication of science to the everyday non-scientific layman.

Or even those of you who are highly qualified scientists: do you think that there is enough emphasis on engaging the public in understanding your line of work and research?

Also how do you get most of your scientific information? newspapers? books? internet? tv? museums?

I would very much appreciate to know what you have to think about how the current system of communication could be improved or what is especially good or bad about the current state of communication.

If you could also say where you are from in the world as this would allow me to make a comparison between what people in the UK think to other areas of the world.

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15 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Science is no longer your fathers science kit and has evolved into such diverse and involved disciplines that few people are qualified to understand let alone report on. When you mention science, 95% of the population’s eyes will glaze over and if it is something on tv these same people will change the channel which is a certain death knell for most science programming and why we see so little information on it.

To learn and find out about cutting edge science I go to Nature.com and Science.gov. Science is our future and it is happening all around us.

Pandora's avatar

I get most of my information from the news media on tv and on the internet. I’m no scientist but I do like reading about latest findings and research subjects. Especially medical discoveries. I think most media try their best to break it down for the layman. Wish some terms were a bit easier so I wouldn’t have to try to look up the words. However on the news they are usually pretty thorough about describing unfamiliar terms.

jrpowell's avatar

I went to school for Economics. In my first lecture the professor talked about the need for economists that wanted to do journalism. Pretty much because you needed people with a good knowledge of econ that could simplify it to a seventh grade reading level.

Really, this was when we had newspapers, and the goal was making it so a 13 year old could understand understand price elasticity of demand with a pizza example.

Pandora's avatar

@johnpowell Glad to see they moved it up. I thought they were still on the sixth grade reading level.

Kayak8's avatar

I have to hunt down most science information from journal articles and the like. Some of it is lack of availability in the popular media or the sheer delay of information reaching the mainstream press.

I do find that National Public Radio (NPR) allows stories to be of sufficient length to actually permit the sharing of information. They have smart people who really find the science as interesting as I do (and that seems to be some of the success—they are enthusiastic).

Most others offer little sound bites that do nothing but tease the listener. Often the tease will be enough to clue me in to go conduct a journal search on the topic to learn what really happened.

So in brief, I go seeking science news as it often doesn’t come to me with sufficient depth to be interesting.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

This is a sore point with me. Science in the mainstream media is often sensationalized and is invariably dumbed down, often in a way that introduces errors.

Pew has a science quiz on line. The questions are very easy, yet the average score is only 8 out of 12. This massive ignorance on the part of the public provides fertile ground for climate change denialists, young Earth creationists, and quacks of every description. I consider it a national crisis, but hardly anyone cares.

Trillian's avatar

I think that the History, Discovery, Learning Channels and others as well as Nat Geo do a pretty good job. The scientists are allowed to speak for themselves, so it’s pretty much on them.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Fictionally, I think the uptight and socially inept egghead/nerd/boffin stereotype is still the thing in mainstream portrayals, which is a shame. It’s a good thing that the last three Doctors have been physically attractive and a little more “cool”, frankly. Sorry, Tom.

But thanks to the internet, and the multiple cable channels, there’s more real science information available to the layperson than there’s ever been.

nikipedia's avatar

I live in the United States and am a graduate student in the life sciences. I get most of my science from scientific journals.

I think the state of scientific communication is bad, but getting better. The truth is, it is extremely hard to be accessible and accurate at the same time. To really understand the meaning of a scientific contribution, you need to have a good understanding of the context it’s in. So you need to have kind of an idea of what else is going on in the field, what has been done, what some critical elements are, etc.

I experience this personally when I try to teach science classes. It is impossible to teach exactly the right thing without teaching everything. So we end up teaching summaries of science that try to approximate what we know to be true.

It has been my experience that many people are skeptical of science (which is a good thing) and distrust scientists and scientific findings (which I consider a very bad thing!) due to a few isolated incidents of financial conflicts of interest leading to spurious findings, or errors that led to retractions. I think these people are unlikely to seek out accurate scientific information even though they are the ones who need it the most.

Blogs are the best thing that has ever happened to scientific communication. While the quality runs the gamut, there are many that are very thoughtful, educated, and well-written. I don’t think there has ever been such a good outlet for scientific communication in all of history. Blogs provide a very important link between jargon-filled scientific literature and people who are interested in science but don’t have the vocabulary and context to understand journal articles on their own.

thriftymaid's avatar

It’s completely skewed. The outlets choose what to cover based on whether it fits with their own political biases.

Rarebear's avatar

Very, very poorly. It’s sensationalized crap digested into sound bites.

YARNLADY's avatar

In the public media, science is disguised, so people won’t be afraid of it. When I saw your question, I picked up my newspaper to find out. On the front page is an article about the floods in Tennessee, with a very informative explanation of the problem (science), and an article about the oil leak disaster in the Gulf, again containing some very interesting information about it (science). Inside, there is a report on obesity in children filled with gasp science, and an article on a medicine recall that gives a full, scientific, explanation of the issue.

People think science has to be all full of scientific jargon and nothing but the facts please, and tend to completely overlook the scientific nature of the world around us.

Kayak8's avatar

@IchtheosaurusRex I just did the Pew Quiz and got 12/12!!!!!

filmfann's avatar

A few months back, I was watching the Nature channel, and this show called “How the Earth was created” came on, and one of the three highlighted scientists was this guy who I used to play football with. Not the dorky scientist the movies have made me expect…

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