Monday, 13 February 2012

Are journalists from Mars and scientists from Venus?

Are journalists and scientists from different planets? Do they speak different languages? Are they forced to not understand each other?
These questions are framed in a long debate that looks like a never ending one. This time it re-started with a post in the “Notes and Theories” blog of The Guardian written by Ananyo Bhattacharya, chief online editor of Nature. What does this post say? In few words, that scientists don't have a clue about how journalism works.

There was a quick reaction from different bloggers and scientists who replied to that post giving their opinion and saying why, in this case, journalists don't understand how science or science journalism work. Even Ed Yong published in his blog a diagram of the relationship between journalists and scientists.

Actually, there is a bit of everything in science journalism and communication. It's true that scientists are used to write articles with a specific structure (the scientific paper one) that is different to the one used by journalists. And if scientists don't understand this journalistic structure and want their research to get published in conventional mass media and reach a broader audience, they should make an effort to adapt themselves to it in this context. An article in a journal is not the same as an article in a scientific publication. And for a journalistic article about a researcher work to be good it requires two things: a scientist who knows how to collaborate with a journalist, and a journalist who understands the researcher's work. This is team work.

In general, scientists are not trained to work with journalists to communicate the research they do. This is a problem because there are good scientists who would like to communicate their science but don't know how to do it or they are not good at it. There are masters and postgraduate courses in science journalism and communication but this is not enough. However there are some isolated initiatives that cover the necessity of training scientists in science journalism but they are not enough.

On the other hand, journalists have to understand that scientists don't like quite a few things related to mass media. Many scientists are afraid of telling something to a journalist and being misunderstood. Because if this happens the article about his or her research can appear in a wrong way in the mass media and the error will be  associated to the scientist. This is understandable, mainly because what it is interesting for a scientist it is not for a journalist and vice versa. We can't change this , but we can make an effort and work together, understand each other and adapt ourselves.

And all this for what? Very simple. To be sure that scientists and journalists speak the same language: the language that takes science to the general public. I'm convinced that scientists and journalists who want science to get to everybody do find the way to do it. And it's an amazing way. The one that grips people with the wonders of science.

Comic: How science reporting works by Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Published originally in Spanish in


  1. There is an event on this coming up at the Royal Institution (London), curated by Alok Jha from the Guardian. Ananyo Bhattacharya is one of the speakers. It's on March 13, details here:

  2. Thanks for the information James!!! :-)



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