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November 1, 2006

MEDIA

Science In The Press

Panel debates whether science gets a fair shake

MARC S. REISCH

A panel of science writers met at Columbia University in New York City late last month to examine challenges that the news media face in getting the science right for a story.

Aimed at answering one central question—Does science get a fair shake in the press?—the event attracted about 40 people from the media and science communities.

Discussion moderator John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American, said the news media's job is to explain the science behind the pressing issues of the day. Because the press is frequently unsuccessful in doing so, he asked panelists to consider some of the systemic problems they see with press coverage of science.

Science is "about quantifying and managing uncertainty," Rennie said, whereas journalists "want clear statements." Panelists Cornelia Dean, science writer at the New York Times, and Robert Krulwich, a correspondent for ABC News, discussed the problems they've encountered in trying to explain complex problems in clear terms. Krulwich noted that the public's desire for short yes-or-no answers to short questions presents a paradox for people who write about complex issues.

Scientific American, whose articles explain current science and technology developments, sponsored the event along with the American Chemistry Council, a trade association concerned about the public's perception of chemistry.

Thomas Metzger, ACC marketing and public relations director, said the association plans to distribute a video of the event to member companies that have had problems presenting science-based arguments on chemistry-related issues to a nervous and skeptical public.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society