I was reading a comment thread on sci comms blog yesterday and was struck by the comments raised by various scientists about the problems of communicating effectively with the media which matched many things I’ve said on here and elsewhere. In short, that there is a sadly widespread tendency for the simplest of comments to be taken out of context, stories rehashed incorrectly, and things even downright fabricated. The apparent comeback from people on the media wide was that scientists are too boring with their communiqués and if we could just be more interesting maybe the media wouldn’t ignore us.
This is an unwinable situation. As a researcher it seems almost impossible to avoid having your words twisted, changed, misreported or worse. No matter how much you simplify things to make them clear and unambiguous and accurate, they will not survive meeting most of the journalists who are intended to make them into stories. If scientists suck the life out of a story with dry facts it is manifestly not to do with the incapability of researchers to communicate well, but a terror of having your words distorted. If you are exciting, you are simply far more likely to be misreported, if you keep it simple, you are boring.
If nothing else, this strikes me as simply being lazy. Scientists could be the most boring and tedious people on Earth with the driest of deliveries and who merely recite facts and figures and data. But even if they were, it would still be the job of a science journalist to make that stuff interesting and readable and exciting. So really, this complaint seems to boil down to “you are too afraid of us making anther mess of your work to give us good copy and we won’t make good copy out of it if you don’t try harder”. Well, thanks for that. I can see now how everything is the fault of the uncommunicative and boring scientists and not incompetent / unoriginal / lazy journos. You know, those people who write all those books and magazine articles and do TV shows and write blogs, and give public lectures and run websites and so on. Yeah, them. None of them are any good at communicating their science, are they?