Science and the Media / by Katie Edmonds

After watching Professor Lisa Randall's appearance on The Daily Show, I briefly searched for articles on the link between scientific rigor and popular opinion. I found that that scientific inquiry and informative media are in a state of conflict, each claiming that the other is a source of self-interested or misleading information. This 2008 article in Scientific American proposes that news broadcasters commit reasoning errors which lead  people to make erroneous conclusions about events as important as declaring war.

This article from the Independent asks where the conflict between science and journalism started, and why it's so heated.

One thing science and media have in common is a dependence on their own social capital. Overabundance of information, and increasingly nuanced categories of authority and expertise, create new critical thinking challenges which often prevent a beneficial and generative public discourse.

The issue is well described in a Geographical Journal piece, published by the Royal Geographical Society:

"While many academics would like their research to be brought to wider attention through the media, few really understand how to go about this, what will make it attractive to media companies, and how, finally, to explain their work to cameras and microphones. This translation of their research from academia to a lay audience requires a transdisciplinary approach that bridges the boundaries of academy and practice. The programme makers must bring together different methodological approaches, integrate the results of many researchers, sometimes carried out at different scales, so that scientific advances overall can be explained simply and clearly to the public" (source).

When we're in our audience role each of us is in the position to ramp up our media and information literacy so we can be engaged and comfortable with what comes our way. It's not easy to do, especially when we rely so heavily on media and science for the information that we use when thinking critically.

Fortunately, we have some outrageously successful intersections of science and media to look back on, so we might be reassured that it's possible for them to be mutually beneficial.