The Sciences

Science Gets Spun or Spoon-Fed?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJul 10, 2013 8:24 PM


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Depending on whom you ask, Fiona Fox is either saving science journalism or destroying it.

That's the lead in a Naturestory on the person who heads up Britain's Science Media center, which

believes that scientists can have a huge impact on the way the media cover scientific issues, by engaging more quickly and more effectively with the stories that are influencing public debate and attitudes to science.

In theory, this seems like a no-brainer. But as the Nature story points out, the Science Media Center has

attracted some vehement critics, who say that they foster uncritical media coverage by spoon-feeding information to reporters, that they promote science too aggressively — the SMC has been called 'science's PR agency' — and that they sometimes advance the views of industry.

Personally, I like to spoon-feed from multiple sources, so nobody feels they own me outright. Seriously, I don't get this criticism of the Science Media Center. Reporters get fed information all the time--from government officials, industry hacks, agenda-driven NGO's, etc. (And yes, every reporter has a stable of go-to sources that he can turn to for a catchy quote reliably emailed before deadline.) Good reporters seek out information from multiple venues and learn to trust some more than others, based on numerous factors. Still, good reporters writing about climate change, for example, will not be overly reliant on Greenpeace or James Hansen or the Science Media Center. Speaking of climate change, I seem to recall two much applauded initiatives rolled out several years ago, the objective being

to provide high-quality information to the media and the public.

Do any journalists that have used the Climate Science Rapid Response Team believe they were spoon-fed information? And even if they were, no self-respecting reporter would rely unduly on just one source. Ditto for the relationship between journalists and the Science Media Center. So if you're worried about a science-advocacy organization influencing how science is covered in the media, are you also worried about Greenpeace and the Climate Science Rapid Response Team influencing climate change coverage? If you are, your beef shouldn't be with them. You should only care how a reporter uses the various information streams at his or her disposal. If one source is being favored over others, that's not the source's fault.

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