"When Academics Meet the Press"
Coincidentally, while I was writing this story, my husband, who is also a science journalist, was asked by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Hopkins to give a seminar on communicating science to the public. He accepted the offer. A heady discussion followed the talk during which many important questions were raised, including this one: What is the role of the science writer?
To many scientists (including some who attended the seminar), it is the responsibility of the science writer to educate the public about science. But I differ.
Science writers, in the act of reporting a story, very often do teach their audience a thing or two about science. But science education is not their primary role. The reporter's first obligation is to tell readers, listeners, or viewers what is happening in the world of science. What are scientists studying and why? What approaches are researchers considering in solving a particular scientific quandary? Why do two groups of scientists differ over the results of a particular finding? The ongoing process of science--including the debates, disagreements, and failures, as well as the successes--are all part of the journalist's material.
An educator instructs. A reporter shows. It's a subtle distinction.
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