Posted on October 1, 2015
Recently I had the opportunity to attend a Voice of Young Science (VoYS) workshop at University of Glasgow, focussing on science in the media, and how we as early career researchers can stand up for science on behalf of the public. Take a look at my review of the workshop for some of the hints & tips I learned on the day.
VoYS is a branch of Sense About Science tailored specifically for early career researchers; it’s a thriving community of young scientists from all fields of science. They run workshops, campaign for good science, and have a strong online presence that supports and facilitates public debates about science.
The core of the event took the format of 3 panels, allowing questions and open discussion between panellists and the audience.
Focus: Science and the media – what happens when research announcements go wrong, statistics are manipulated, risks are distorted, or the discussions become polarised?
Dr Kirsty Park, Reader in Conservation Science, University of Stirling
Dr Lisa DeBruine, Reader, Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow
Professor Miles Padgett, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow
Chaired by Victoria Murphy, Programme Manager, Sense About Science
The first panel gave us a variety of viewpoints on working with the media. Miles Padgett described the advantages, explaining that his work with a journalist from BBC Scotland provided him with new analogies and ways to explain his research when speaking to the public. Kirsty Park showed some pretty far fetched headlines that resulted from a paper she published in 2005, and went on to give advice on how to respond. Sometimes it’s simply not worth a response, but in other cases responding respectfully can be useful – even if that’s just to make sure your mind is at rest. Lisa DeBruine discussed her experience with live radio – advising us to always ask what questions you’ll be asked in advance, prepare your main points and don’t stick to them.
As the discussion flowed the panel emphasised the importance for us for as scientists to understand the way the media works; all scientific breakthroughs will not warrant a new story, and those that do must be presented in a public-friendly way – it may not necessarily be so important for the story to be 100% accurate if the general ideas are correct and written in a style that the public can read and identify with.
Focus: What journalists are looking for – journalists explain how they approach stories, balance the need for news and entertainment with reporting science and evidence, and deal with accusations of polarising debates and misrepresenting the facts.
Lizzy Buchan, Health Correspondent, The Scotsman
Peter Ranscombe, freelance journalist
Eleanor Bradford, Health Correspondent, BBC Scotland
Chaired by Joanne Thomas, Projects and Events Officer, Sense About Science
This was undoubtedly my favourite panel of the day; we’d been discussing ‘the media’ in very general terms up to this point, but this panel proved the media had a face. Eleanor Bradford made an important point in response to a question from the audience, when asked if any of the panel had a science degree or experience she asked the audience who had paid for their news that day. 2 or 3 people in a room of around 40 said they’d bought a newspaper – but we’re still expecting our news to come from specialists. The discussion moved on to the changes in the media industry – huge cuts have been made and a lot of specialist journalism has moved to the freelance market, Peter Ranscombe is now freelance after working as a staff journalist for around a decade. Lizzy Buchan explained how fast paced her days are, which shocked me somewhat. I realised that for a daily paper things must move quickly, but sometimes Lizzy’s writing 3 or even 4 news pieces in just a few hours – no wonder mistakes and inaccuracies can slip through the net when demands on time are tight.
Journalists are not the enemy; no one sets out to write an inaccurate piece, and it’s all about communicating effectively (and quickly!) with your media contact to get things published that you’re happy with.
Focus: Standing up for science: the nuts and bolts – practical guidance for early career researchers to get their voices heard in debates about science and evidence, how to respond to bad science when you see it, and top tips for if you come face-to-face with a journalist.
Ross Barker, Senior Communications Officer, University of Glasgow
Olivia Kirtley, Voice of Young Science representative
Victoria Murphy, Programme Manager, Sense About Science
Chaired by Lindsay Hogg, Scottish Coordinator, Sense About Science
The closing panel focussed on giving us the tools to stand up for science – get writing! Writing for established blogs, a student newspaper or even setting up your own blog can really help you to develop your writing skills whilst standing up for science. Use social media sites – Twitter in particular is a great one to allow you the write to a response when you see science that doesn’t seem quite right. The panel encouraged us to work with the press officers at our respective universities; if you’re approached by the media and you’re nervous they can run mock interviews and give you tips on how to explain your work in lay terms. Working with the media shouldn’t be a scary experience – use it to learn more about your own research and how best to communicate with those outside of the scientific community and you won’t go far wrong.
The event was a great opportunity not only to learn, but to network with students at various stages of their PhD and a few post-docs too. If you’re an early career researcher who hasn’t yet been in contact with VoYS or Sense About Science please do!