Sunday, April 13, 2014

Susan Watts: Society needs more than wonder to respect science

A very good column in Nature:

There is a fundamental difference between science communication and science journalism. At the science communication end of the spectrum sit the stories that show people how exciting science can be, the discovery of a wonder material, perhaps, or a new subatomic particle. Explaining the significance of sightings of the Higgs boson or of gravitational waves from the early Universe takes real skill.

Science journalism's job is to tell the stories that explore the murky underbelly of science, like the selling of bogus stem-cell cures to vulnerable patients. It is science journalism that will expose the rushed policy-making, the undisclosed profiteering, the conflicts of interest and the vested interests, the bad experiments, or the out-and-out frauds.

For both, you need to be the kind of person who asks “why” a lot. You need to enjoy coaxing sometimes shy, or reluctant, or just plain difficult scientists to tell you about their work — and then to feel enthused enough to want to tell somebody else.

But a journalist also needs to be persistent, and brave enough to find out the things that people don't want the world to know, and who often work hard to stop the world knowing — and to tell those tales too.