Catalysis Meeting

Evolution Outreach – Reporting Across the Culture Wars Engaging Media on Evolution

PI(s): Lauri Lebo (Freelance)
Norman Johnson (University of Massachusetts-Amherst)
Start Date: 2-Nov-2011
End Date: 3-Dec-2012
Keywords: communication, education

Science is embroiled in a culture war (1). A lack of understanding of the nature of science by the general public has been exploited by groups with a political or religious agenda to generate confusion about scientific information key to understanding issues such as the implications of climate change. Many of these culture wars are fought in the media and it is important to note that while attacks on science are not new, they coincide with an unprecedented upheaval in the state of journalism. The shift toward 24-hour coverage of news events, which is expected to be both immediately and freely accessible has driven media outlets to extremes to maintain viability. Among the casualties, newspaper science sections are disappearing and journalists are expected to juggle a wide array of topics in their daily news coverage – often without adequate training. As a result, newspaper coverage of public controversies about scientific issues, takes a cautious, uninformed “he said, she said” approach and fails to inform readers. The misinformation is especially acute in small-town newspaper coverage. Unfortunately, the this “fair-and-balanced” reporting leads readers to believe that there is a genuine controversy in the scientific community and one side is as credible as the other. We propose a catalysis meeting consisting of both scientists and journalists to develop ways to address these issues so that researchers are better prepared to support accurate media coverage and reporters and editors have a general understanding of scientific issues before such public controversies erupt.