Saturday, February 27, 2010

Journalism and Science

I read Miles O'Brien testimony involving NASA's budget cut:
http://trueslant.com/milesobrien/2010/02/24/to-the-moon-i-think-not-alice/

I watched the Hawaii tsunami coverage on CNN.

What do they have in common?

In the former, Miles criticizes the major media outlets for dropping their actual science journalists. He says quite clearly that "the reporters are not well informed". He did not say the science journalists. he said reporters. People whose sole job is either researching and reporting, or investigating and reporting (i.e. communicating). The result, he says, is that the message is being lost. I would argue that even the sense of excitement, passion, and love of all things science is being lost as well. I follow Miles because he has these qualities. I watch him on spaceflightnow.com , I read his FB status updates, and read his blog. It oozes with a passion for science and he has a great way with words. I can read his writing and in my head I hear his voice with his inflections.

On the air today, with regard to the latter, I had to hear Rick Sanchez (whom I am biased against already for much different reasons), basically say: Hold on Dr. Scientist, don't explain this to me ... just answer my question. Which basically, in my humble opinion, criticized the smart scientist not for speaking in science terms ... but more so for speaking in laymen science terms. Thankfully CNN didnt continue with that crap and rather cut away to local affiliates coverage. There was a communication divide and it was WIDE as it was DEEP.

In much the same vein, The foxnews reporting on everything -gate, has cornered the market on conspiracy. Especially on Climate. They have a winning formula.
I will break it down:
1. Introduce climate change information (whether it be a simple fact or a person involved).
2. cast some doubt on said information (legitimate or not).
3. associate people with that doubt and tie them to someone somewhere who may have done something wrong (ignoring facts as they go).
4. cite climate sceptics as truth or use the glenn beck-ism "we are just asking questions here".
5. package this up as climate change doesn't exist.

They succeed because the science message isn't being communicated well. Climate has no PR machine. We have journals, technical reports, and atmospheric science bodies (the IPCC, AMS, AGU, NASA, etc.). These bodies deliver solid messages, but they can not compete with a 24 hour news org on the attack.

It just seems daunting. On the one hand we need science journalists (actual specialized folks who have passion, knowledge in science, and communicate well) to fill the void. This requires that major media outlets invest, and lets face it, the reason they cut these people was because they are bleeding.

We need better science teachers in our schools. Not just high school. Middle school and elementary schools too. And not just people who specialize in education. Again we need that passion and knowledge there too. Better teachers bring better content. This is a long shot because there just isn't the money to actually pay teachers with a Masters degree and worse a Masters may be detrimental to getting hired in the first place.

Some things need to change around here. And it would seem fitting that the people who can save us ...our young scientists who wait 3-5 years for permanent positions...are perfect to fill the gap. The problems are... the gap in pay, the student loans, the penalty for not publishing ... not worth it.

How sad is that?