Drayson pledge on science coverage

Scientists 'misrepresented' in media encouraged to contact minister for help. Zoë Corbyn reports

September 24, 2009

The Science Minister has offered to investigate the cases of scientists who feel they have been misrepresented in the press.

Lord Drayson made the surprise move in a bid to spur scientists towards greater public engagement as he went head to head with Ben Goldacre, columnist and author of Bad Science, in a debate on the state of science reporting in Britain, organised by Times Higher Education.

Addressing a 400-strong audience at the Royal Institution last week - and many more via a live video feed on www.timeshighereducation.co.uk - Lord Drayson argued that science journalism has improved significantly over the past decade because specialist journalists were now in the driving seat.

He said the media had moved on from "scare stories" and deserved praise for high-quality coverage.

But he also offered practical help in response to audience concerns that scientists had no recourse if their words or findings were distorted, adding he would be "very happy" to be contacted about cases. He even provided his email address - via his personal Twitter feed - so that scientists could take up his offer.

"It is important for scientists, when they feel that they have been misrepresented by the media, not to accept it," Lord Drayson said.

"A government minister could investigate and on finding (evidence of misrepresentation), could follow up why it had happened," he explained. Ministers may be able to "ensure things were changed to reduce the likelihood of it happening again", he added.

But Lord Drayson's assessment of the state of science coverage was derided by his opponent, Dr Goldacre, who maintained that scientists were right to be sceptical about engaging with the press. He encouraged them to consider other ways to communicate directly with the public, such as blogs.

"The era of scare stories and bad journalism isn't over," Dr Goldacre said. Inaccurate, misrepresentative reporting of science "remains a problem we need to talk about".

A spokesman for the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), which deals with grievances about editorial content, said it had asked for a meeting with Lord Drayson.

He said there was "no conflict" between the PCC's work and Lord Drayson's offer, but added that it was also on hand to deal with complaints from scientists and regularly did so. "The PCC is the forum to discuss these issues," he said.

Lord Drayson has asked Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre, to chair a working group on the future of science in the media.

zoe.corbyn@tsleducation.com

Read more coverage of the debate at http://tiny.cc/GloE3

TWITTER: A FORUM FOR DEBATE

  • If the ghost of Faraday were here tonight, he'd be impressed this debate is taking place.
  • Is the fact that there is a market for poor science journalism a reflection of the failings of our education system?
  • I'm very pleased with the debate. It really gave the lie to those who say that Twitter is just people saying "I'm eating a sandwich, lol".
  • What would improve science journalism is a Press Complaints Commission with teeth.

More via www.twitter.com/timeshighered.

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