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RE: Science and the media (was RE: New finds)

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-dinosaur@usc.edu [mailto:owner-dinosaur@usc.edu]On Behalf Of
Emma Rainforth
Sent: Thursday, July 11, 2002 8:12 PM
To: 'dinosaur@usc.edu'
Subject: Science and the media (was RE: New finds)

My 2c:

> The major problem is this: science, at its deepest level, is just too
> technical.  .....
> So, your saying the problem is science itself and not accurately reporting
> it?

Science is NOT too technical. The problem lies, IMO, with the scientists,
who fail to explain the technicalities in lay-persons' terms. Thus, the
folks who write press releases for institutions don't understand what the
scientists said,  the journalists (for the most part) don't understand what
the PR folks said (and even without that intermediate step, the scientists
often do such a lousy job, sitting up in their ivory towers....) ... is it
any WONDER science stories are so inaccurate at times? And that folk believe
what they see in dinosaur movies?<<
I wonder how different the science reporting is from the 1950's to today?
Has things changed that much? Sure, as far as dinosaurs, yea a lot, but what
about the rest?

>>All too often, the research scientists cut themselves off in their ivory
towers. They consider the 'little people' (ie everyone except themselves)
unworthy of their time, so they throw jargon and technical stuff out. The
press (who have the lucky position of communicating the science to the
masses) also don't understand, and worse, either fail to realize they don't
understand, or don't bother even TRYING to understand. Unfortunately, the
'little people', who then consider the scientists elitist, are the
politicians, the taxpayers.... who essentially hold the purse strings for
science research in the first place.

> When it comes down to it, the upper levels of science are just too
> technical
> for those who have not studied it to understand.<<
> So it can't be explained to the public?

I think, given a little effort on the scientists' part, ANYthing can be
explained to almost anyone. You may have to use everyday analogies, which
may not be 100% accurate, but it can be done, and gets the general message

> Are you saying the public just wouldn't understand? Is it really that
> difficult to explain science in an interesting and accurate way? Or is the
> public so blasay that they don't care?

Even if most of the public doesn't care, there will be a small percentage
who do - and maybe they'll get their kids interested, and maybe those kids
will be the next generation of scientists. Heck, if we're really lucky,
they'll be the next generation of world leaders.

So, while the press often (mostly?) does a sloppy job, you can't tar all
reporters with the same brush; and chances are, the scientists themselves,
who are the ones whose work is being reported on, have not bothered to, or
realize they should have, explained their work for the 'masses'. Research is
great; educating people so they care about the research is even better.
Scientists have this responsibility, and most are ducking it.

Caveat: many (maybe even most) research paleontologists do not fall into
this category - at least, not as deep as scientists in some other fields. In
part, because 'everyone loves big dead things'. Luckily, also, we all know
of some media-savvy paleontologists who DO care about education as much as
Phew, you had me worried there about paleontologist...

>>If we're lucky, scientists will inspire a few students, who will become
educators with a passion for their subject and ignite interest in THEIR
students. And the beauty of paleontology and geology is: you can bring in
just about ANY branch of science in the process, and educate people without
them even knowing it!

Okay, I think I got a tad carried away there....<<
Hmm, a tad? Your beginning to sound like I use to...on the list...in the
last few years...before I had the...


Emma C. Rainforth
Curator, Mesalands Dinosaur Museum and
Natural Science Instructor
Mesalands Community College
911 South Tenth St.
Tucumcari, NM 88401
505/461-4413 x192
fax 801/838-4126
Oh, so you took over for Adrian Hunt? I was wondering who did that.

Tracy L. Ford
P. O. Box 1171
Poway Ca  92074