Over at the Intersection, Sheril asks the following about new media and science communication:
consider these questions from the program:
* New media addressing S&T issues – what/where/who are they?
* Who do they see as their primary audiences?
* What do they try to convey (or try not to convey)?
* What do they see as missing from the current dialogues on S&T and policy?
* How are they addressing those elements?
* What are the new media missing?
I think the primary role that new media can play is the development of new narratives. Most science stories are plugged into a few narratives such as:
- We’re all going to die.
- Icky and gross.
- Men want to have sex, women want babies.
- Controversy of any kind, no matter how ridiculous or unfounded.
- The best, newest technology EVAH!
I actually think this is less the fault of reporters, than editors (most of whom know far less about science than the reporter covering the story). One advantage of ‘new media’ is that science stories can have alternative narratives. For example, I was interviewed for a story about a fish tank-associated Salmonella outbreak. To a microbiologist who read the EID article, the ‘don’t let water contaminated with fish shit get on your dishes and food’ angle was trivial. Sure, it needed to be said–there are a lot of stupid people out there. But that wasn’t the real story, as far as I was concerned.
The real story was that this Salmonella strain had a type of antibiotic resistance that could only result from the agricultural use of antibiotics. I know the reporter understood this (and has covered antibiotic resistance enough to understand its importance). Sadly, it died on the cutting room floor because the ‘fish shit’ angle was the focus of the piece. So the internetz have the potential to cover the angles that aren’t usually covered.
The other way the new media can advance the public’s understanding of science is that most traditional media have a very hard time portraying science as a process, as opposed to some form of revelation. I don’t think that there’s a single scientist who doesn’t cringe when he or she reads, “Scientists say…” as if this was revealed from on high. One excellent example of this was a great post by the author of a paper about how the paper actually came to be–which is substantially different than what a paper usually presents. I really wish a print journalist would interview the author.
So, how do you think ‘new media’ can help or hurt science?