Scientists are media shy

April 28, 1995

Australian scientists regard the popular media with suspicion, believing it trivialises and distorts their work, according to a survey of nearly 180 scientists from mainland states.

Communicating via the media is seen as optional and not part of the job. In a report in Search - the journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science - Tom Gascoigne and Jenni Metcalfe say a culture change is required before scientists are willing to make more use of the media.

Using the media has to become "an accepted, rewarded, recognised and legitimate activity" that is encouraged at the highest levels of scientific organisations. The researchers say that media skills courses can be used to make scientists more comfortable with media experience. "But a larger part lies in making policy and administrative changes that can help to move the scientific culture towards more influential modes of communication."

The researchers are both communication managers with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and regularly provide media courses for scientists. They collected information from scientists, mostly from the CSIRO, through a series of "focus groups" and a mail questionnaire.

Ten focus groups were held in the five mainland state capital cities with participants who had media experience and others with little or none.

The investigation revealed that communicating through the media was generally seen as optional, not basic to a scientist's work.

Scientists also regard media activity as neutral or negative to their promotion prospects.

According to Search significant divisions emerged between scientists who turn to the media regularly and those who do not.

Those who use the media to communicate see considerable advantages for themselves, their project and the organisation they work for. They use the media as another tool to communicate discoveries to a variety of audiences.

Using the media is seen as an imperfect but powerful method of reaching end-users, research funders, bureaucrats and other scientists, the report says.

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