In today’s world, people get their news from a huge range of sources. It has never been so easy to access the most recent, interesting information.
A recent talk by Karen Bridwell made me consider the benefits that a huge audience would have to breakthrough science, allowing scientists to use forms of media as a tool to spread knowledge. Her talk focused on pro-active media; the use of press releases as a way for experts to present their research to journalists.
How would this type of approach benefit both the public and the scientist? It would mean that the researchers would have control over how they want their research to be read. Ideally, the information would have a greater chance of being correct and relevant, with the interesting bits highlighted. This means that journalism could inform the public and even influence the government.
However, mistakes can happen, such as the infamous MMR scare. In 1998 a falsified research paper reached headlines to claim that an essential vaccine could cause autism. I think that this world-renowned case of media misinformation is an excellent demonstration of the importance of scientific communication to large audiences. Representative of this, The Guardian recently pointed out that teenagers today are at risk of serious illness due to the scare.
In all, I think that science in the media is a success by having few memorable big mistakes in the last 20 years. But can we afford another one?