Why Communicate Science?

No one can doubt the immense impact of science and technology on society today. We face the challenges of not only understanding the current multiple revolutions in science and technology, but also how they affect the future of humanity and of the Earth.

The most important single information source for the public about science and technology is the media. Thus, helping science journalists to produce factual, intelligible, timely information is critically important to society.

Also, scientists have an ethical obligation to the public to account for their stewardship of the public funds used to support their work. In large part, they can meet this obligation by helping produce explanatory material such as news releases and by making themselves available to the public's representative, the media.

However, in addition to these public service and ethical motivations for aiding science journalists, there are also very practical reasons.

For one thing, publicity helps communicate scientific information among researchers. Experience has shown that after a piece of research is publicized, a scientist usually receives a significant number of requests for further information from fellow researchers, many of whom may have missed the published scientific paper or meeting talk. Particularly important in this era of interdisciplinary research, such contacts often come from colleagues outside the scientist's discipline. These may result in useful collaborations or new insights into the scientist's work.

Cooperating with the media also makes it far more likely that the resulting stories will be accurate. As research becomes more complex, even the most expert science journalist finds it extremely difficult to keep up with the fields he or she covers. Regardless of the scientists' cooperation, journalists will cover a significant piece of research news. So, issuing carefully worded releases and explaining the work in interviews will help make that coverage more accurate.

Finally, of course, coverage of science and technology attracts more public and private support for research and attracts interested, talented students to careers in science and engineering.

This handbook was prepared by the National Association of Science Writers to increase understanding of journalists' needs. The handbook is especially aimed at scientists, engineers, physicians and others who head committees to handle media arrangements for meetings, conventions, conferences, and symposia — especially those who do not have professional public relations help. It is also intended as a guide for public information officers (PIOs) to help them cooperate effectively in telling the story of science.

The handbook describes how the business of gathering and reporting science news works. It includes how public relations committee members and PIOs can help journalists by setting up newsrooms, arranging news conferences, setting release times, and providing advance texts, summaries or abstracts, photographs, audio tape and videotape — all essential aids in meeting news deadlines.


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