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RE: New finds

Steve Brusatte <dinoland@lycos.com> wrote:

">On Thu, 11 Jul 2002 19:14:11 Tracy L. Ford wrote:
>So, your saying the problem is science itself and not accurately reporting it?

Oh, it is certainly both. I'm just saying that science, at its deepest level, is too technical to accurately explain to the public in a) a general readership publication and b) the short amount of space that many stories are allowed."

Agreed. I think many on the list can agree to the idea that a newspaper is limited on space and, therefore, on the amount of background presented to help the public understand.

">So, are you saying the press HAS to/NEEDS to DUMB things down for the public
>so the public can understand? Why not let the public look at a dictionary to
>find out a word they don't understand.

Yes, the press must dumb some things down. I doubt most of the anatomical terms that all of us hold so dear can be found in a traditional dictionary that the majority of newspaper readers have at home. Analogies and comparisons are great ways for science to be explained, but simply stating the facts is often not interesting, or just too technical for the public."

I disagree. I do not think the press has to "dumb some things down". To do so is to underestimate the public who will read the article. What needs to be done is to give some basic background info up front, then go into what the info means to scientists, then go onto explanations of why the new discovery can help support/change theories and ideas scientists have on these discoveries. There is not need to "aim low": approaches like that have lead to the last 3 Presidents of the United States to identify themselves as the "Education President". These same approaches have lead to the election of the present governor of my state (Ohio), the present mayor of my city (Columbus), and to the serious consideration of including Intelligent Design in our state's education. Lucky us, hey?

"Let me give you an example. I was recently in San Diego for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, which is a meeting where high school students such as myself present original research! t! ! o other students. Keep in mind that most of the students attending come from very good schools and take the highest level science classes offered. At dinner one evening I began discussing cladistics, and nobody-NOBODY-had heard of it. Cladistics isn't even taught in most (any?) Advanced Placement biology courses in high school. Now, if it's not taught to students today, how are adults that were likely taught the antiquated kingdom-phylum-etc. classification supposed to understand crown groups, sister groups, and synapomorphies?"

Unfortunately, as the recent brush with the ID supporters taught us here in Ohio, if the teachers are not directed to teach the words/subject verbatim, they do not have the time to include it. For instance, presently Ohio's science standards do not instruct teachers to use the term "evolution"; instead, "change over time" is used. And many teachers use it.

Emma wrote:

">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 stri! ng! ! s for
>science research in the first place.

Although I don't have as much experience as many on the list, I would basically agree. Some scientists are elitists, and some reporters fool themselves into thinking they understand what they really don't."

I have been very lucky to have had several working scientists interrupt their day to fit in time for me to come and talk to them about their work and their opinions. I got to meet with five or six, and only one scientist refused. When I approached these scientists, I told them up front that I was not a professional, but that I was the closest thing to a paleontologist my museum (at the time) had. I also would explain that I was doing background for upcoming exhibits, and then found that most doors were held wide open. If I could do that, imagine what a reporter could do - their job is to educate an entire segment of the population! So I must disagree slightly with the statement that scientists are elitists: some are, but, from my experience, most are not.

And I have a hard time asking scientists to study PR. Many of the people doing research for non-profit organizations (colleges, universities, museums, etc) just don't have the time to! a! ! dd on some PR experience to their resume. And, even then, some of the scientists just cannot communicate effectively to a large audience. It is a talent that not everyone can learn. This is where having a top-notch science reporter can really help out a newspaper. A general understanding of the whole scientific method can go a long way to helping a reporter convey material to their public!

My 2 cents.


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