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The latest edition of Biochemist E-volution hosts a special issue on science and the media with scientists’ and science communicators’ thoughts about science and the media.

Public chemistry lecture at the Surrey Institute, early 1800s (Source: wikipedia)

Public chemistry lecture at the Surrey Institute, early 1800s (Source: wikipedia; artists: Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Charles Pugin)

Alerted via twitter by the ever-busy Bora Zivkovic, and later by a brief mention in an article on his own blog, there is a special edition of Biochemist E-volution Science and the Media available on-line, with all the PDFs of the articles available for free download. (Volume 32, no. 1; Feb. 2010.)

It looks a great collection of articles. including:

Science for the public – beyond the wow factor
by Tracey Brown (Sense About Science)

Facing the press pack – how to hack it
by Paul Hardaker (Royal Meteorological Society)

Heroes and villains – scientists on the small and big screens
by Jennifer Rohn (University College London)

Selling science – Absolutely Fabulous or The Thick of It?
by Dianne Stilwell (Communications Consultant)

More light and colour – science and the new media
by Stephen Curry (Imperial College London)

Cyberbiochemist – tweeting biochemistry
by Clare Sansom (Birbeck College, London, UK)

Schools in Depth – promoting questions and dialogue in school science
by Jane Thomson

as well as several articles of interest to biochemists or just plain old biologists like me.

Those who are familiar with the (British) science blogging or communication scene should find most of the names familiar.

You’ll need to register in order to get access to the articles, but once you’ve done that they’re free. (You can also ask to have their magazine sent to you while you’re at it.)

It’s interesting to see mention of the social media (e.g. twitter) and, for one, I’m glad to see an article looking at the school scene. It’s where our future scientists come from, after all!

I’ve yet to read all the articles but being a fan of Jennifer Rohn’s writing, I’ve taken a sneak peak at her take on our profession as seen on the tele or at the cinema. As always, she write wonderfully. Her opening describes science as essential in a way that’s easy to forget until people need it:

In some ways, science is a bit like oxygen. We breathe in and out, while, behind the scenes, our endeavours are quietly sustained at the molecular level, making it possible to live our lives. It is only when our air supply is under threat — when climbing a mountain, say, or getting caught out on a scuba dive — that we suddenly realize the extent to which we are underpinned by this invisible helper, and how much we normally take it for granted.

It is interesting to see her mention that most science stories in the media are negative, particularly in light of a recent survey that reports that some of the most e-mailed New York Times stories are positive science stories. (Media, take note!)

2012-movie-posterSo many of the points she raises resonate with myself, and I’m sure with other scientists too, that I’d end up citing most of the article! But to just touch on two, one that reflects some local fuss and the approach taken (which I’ve written about myself; see links at the foot of the article):

I think if people understood that the net advance of scientific knowledge is more like a back-and-forth scrum at the leading edge, rather than some sort of linear progression, they would be less uneasy when we fight among ourselves at the cutting edge of conferences and symposia. But how to teach them? [...] Instead, what often happens is the news editor demands balanced talking heads: one pro quote and one contra, even if the pro opinion outweighs the contra by a hundred to one. And the audience is left with the idea of a finely balanced debate, instead of a largely settled one with a few maverick opinions on the fringes.

The other being was what I was really after, science on the big screen. After quickly summarising the early portrayal of science in cinemas as mad, aloof men (no women, which she doesn’t mention!) doing dodgy things, to hapless twits not in control of their pet projects, she offers hope in the new near-future disaster movie 2012:

The initial premise behind the disaster, mutant nutrinos from the sun heating up the earth’s core, is laughable, but when you consider that the problem was not the fault of an experiment gone wrong or a hapless scientist losing control — that it just happened naturally — it is already a step in a new direction. Instead, this time, science gets to be the good guy overall [...]

I really must see that.


Other science communication-related articles at Code for life:

Media thought: Ask what is known, not the expert’s opinion

Scientists on TV: referees of evidence or expert’s opinion?

Genetic tests and personalised medicine, some science communication issues

Three kinds of knowledge about science journalism

Science journalism–critical analysis not debate

Note to science communicators–alleles, not ’disease genes’

Sidebar scientists

Scientists can’t write?