From Physics Today:
Brace yourself for the possibility that you will not like how the science writers depict you or your science. Unflattering portrayals and missing the real point of the science are among the top complaints we hear from researchers, and most senior scientists we know have felt burned at one time or another by a story in the mainstream press that discussed their work.
Science reporters may focus on elements you deem unimportant, even trivial. They may quote an outside expert who challenges your work—or an activist or politician who questions why we are spending money on your research in the first place. You have no control over where they take the story, and you probably won’t have an opportunity to review what they produce before it goes public.
Know, however, that reporters want to get the facts straight; if you spot gross factual errors, you should bring them to the writer’s attention. But don’t suggest stylistic changes: The research may be yours, but the story is the journalist’s.
Actually, if our own experience is any guide, most science writers are pom pom wavers who do not question any orthodoxy, and are hostile to anyone who does, even if the orthodoxy is transparent nonsense.
The most likely problem is that they will twist a story in order to promote or flatter some point of view (the multiverse, evolutionary psychology, or assorted a-crock-alypses or flimflam generally) about which the scientist has legitimate doubts, but daren’t raise them with colleagues who are fans. Re flimflam, see, for example, Whole Foods.
Given your lack of control and the possibility of a less than flattering portrayal, why should you talk to the media in the first place? It’s a question that many scientists have wrestled with.
When people make a case for talking to the media, they usually invoke a sense of duty or cultivated self-interest. Agencies like NSF and the National Institutes of Health specifically require researchers to do public outreach as part of the work they fund. It’s taxpayer dollars after all, and the public has a right to know where its money is going. Studies have shown that media coverage and social media buzz can increase the number of citations for your article. And in our own experience, we regularly see that the articles for which we produce press releases become the most downloaded papers of the year for the journals we cover.
The two of us feel, however, that the best reason for doing media interviews is their potential value to humanity. We live in a time when the human race has accumulated more information than ever before. But if we are flush with information, we are also awash in misinformation, conspiracy theories, distortions, and outright lies. Ill-conceived policies may be made, money wasted, medical advice ignored, and lives lost because people make poor choices based on bogus information. More.
Yes, but poor decisions are made as a result of established science as well. Evidence must decide, not the level of comfort with the establishment. ‘Twas ever thus.
*SINOs = scientists in name only. For example, this type of cosmologist.
Note: Legacy media journalism today has generally declined into a guardianship of naturalist orthodoxy, in all its myriad forms. You will find the real story, if you do, in the new media, not the “papers of record.”
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Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista