Most researchers know of colleagues with bad experiences talking to the media, and you don’t have to make the kind of remarks Tim Hunt recently did at the World Conference of Science Journalists to find yourself suddenly in the spotlight. Nonetheless, bad experiences pale in comparison to the countless examples of scientists providing crucial context to news coverage and having a positive impact on how science issues are portrayed to the public.
I come from the UK where our tabloid news culture caused giant science scandals in the 1990s and early 2000s, with impacts that are still being felt today. During mad cow disease, the furor over genetically engineered crops, and the MMR vaccine scandal, all but a handful of brave scientists distanced themselves from the news, enabling politicians and agenda-driven voices to fill the void and propagate scientific myths into the public consciousness.
I have recently launched a non-profit organization — the Genetic Expert News Service, or GENeS for short — which aims to increase the amount of robust, evidence-based information in North American mainstream media by connecting researchers with journalists working on stories with a genetics or biotechnology angle. We feed into the news by identifying stories ahead of time that are likely to get major attention. By reaching out to scientists with relevant expertise, and sending their analysis to media outlets, we aim to help journalists understand the wider scientific context behind the story at hand and push back against media hype.
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