Despite willingness to speak to the media, journalists say scientists often do not follow through, fearing their science will be misrepresented: EGU Media Survey
21 September 2023
Munich – The European Geosciences Union (EGU) aims to empower scientists to share their research more effectively with the media and by that extension, with the wider public. As part of its #ShareYourScience initiative, EGU sought feedback from journalists in Europe and beyond about their experiences working with scientists. The survey responses are interesting to say the least: Despite ample evidence of the science-media communication gap (1), it is not because scientists are unwilling to engage with the media.
According to respondents of the EGU media survey, fewer than 20% of scientists have actually declined to speak to journalists when contacted for an interview. But journalist responders said that scientists often do not follow through for reasons such as: lack of time; other commitments; they do not consider themselves a subject matter expert; or they are unable or unwilling to discuss findings before they are published.
Having personally witnessed this reluctance to share their science before publication, Tom Parkhill, a freelance press officer with over 20 years’ experience, reveals that the reality of this situation is quite different. “Over the last few years, I have been in touch with roughly 45 journals to ask them their position on this, and only around 20% had a problem with [scientists speaking to the media] prior publication.” So whose responsibly is it then to clarify these guidelines to the scientific community?
Journalists say that if scientists wish to engage with them, the most valuable things they can do are:
- be conscious of the audience and tailor language accordingly (34% of journalists),
- be timely and available in sharing information (31% of journalists),
- be more open to dialogue and two-way communication (24% of journalists).
Another interesting takeaway from the survey is that nearly 60% of journalists who responded believe that scientists fear being misquoted or misrepresented by the media. Published research backs this up, reporting that many scientists perceive dealing with the media as a “delicate task” that can lead to improper quotations or misrepresentations of research results.(2)
Some journalists anonymously expressed their opinion on what else needs to change: “Many scientists need to have media training so that they know how to communicate, and so (that) they want to communicate with the media. Scientists who get public funding have a responsibility to communicate their science to the public.”
Others however acknowledged the dilemmas that scientists sometimes face when they receive a media request, because “they may work in fields that intersect with local and global politics and prefer not to interfere.” In such cases, scientists should be encouraged to speak with their institution’s press officers to understand what they can and cannot say when interacting with the press.
One thing is made clear by these responses: the value of clear communication between scientists and journalists has never been more evident. In the coming months EGU plans to expand our efforts to support these communications with a range of #ShareYourScience resources and training opportunities focused on media interactions, starting with the special webinar What the media wants to hear from you. As a part of this process, EGU is also keen to hear from both journalists and scientists; do you have similar or unique experiences in working with scientists to those described above? Or if you are a scientist or researcher yourself, do you agree with these survey responses and/or wish to add to the conversation? Feel free to write to us at email@example.com. If you are interested in supporting EGU’s efforts in bridging the gap between scientists and journalists, drop us an email to get involved!
1. Lutz et al., 2018. https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-22-3589-2018
2. Dijkstra et al., 2015; Stewart and Nield, 2013
The European Geosciences Union (EGU) is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit interdisciplinary learned association of scientists founded in 2002 with headquarters in Munich, Germany. The EGU publishes a number of diverse scientific journals that use an innovative open access format and organises topical meetings plus education and outreach activities. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting more than 14,000 scientists from all over the world. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, energy, and resources. The next General Assembly will be held from 14–19 April 2024 in Vienna, Austria and virtually. For more information, please check here, or follow the EGU on Twitter and Facebook.
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