Thursday, January 11, 2007

EC project proposes guidelines for scientists' communicating with the media

There are many sides to the problem of transmitting scientific knowledge from scientists to the public. There's miscommunication on the part of the media, for example, exaggerating scientific findings for effect, or creating controversy where such controversy may be minimal, or at least less than portrayed. Then there's miscommunication on the part of scientists, describing results in ways that are either unclear, or with terms that have drastically different meanings for laypeople.

A European Commission FP6 project called MESSENGER ("Media, Science, and Society - Engagement and Governance in Europe"), it looks like, is trying to address these communications problems. It's doing so through a series of guidelines for scientists to attempt to follow in communicating with the media. In particular, the guidelines focus on the communication of risks and benefits associated with particular actions. But it also provides "summary checklists" (consisting of questions to remember, internally) for media professionals to evaluate and convey scientific research, and for scientists to interact with the media.

Many of these are straightforward, and I've seen them in other books for scientific communication. But it's put together in a nice, concise way, and also provides journalists and scientists with a brief perspective of the "other" parties. And they've also put together a Layperson's guide to decoding science and health stories. It should be interesting to see whether and how these guidelines get used.

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