A Talk between a Journalist and a Scientist

   A few weeks ago, in one of my graduate class” Science Communication”, classmates discussed the topic about the communication barriers between scientists and science journalists. The debate sounds like an old and everlasting one, and the two sides seems not able to achieve good understanding with each other at all the time.  

   When I took apart in this discussion in class, my feelings were different from any other of my classmates, which is all due to my special background: I am a physicist in my past five years, and a science journalist since this year. “Is there such a huge disagreement between two sides?” I keep wondering this during the discussion.  Because from my own experience, I believe a good scientist should be able to simply his research work in clear sentences that general audience could get,  and similarly that a good journalist could be able to objectively transfer what the scientists say to the audiences without being questioned later by scientists. Why do scientists  think journalists cannot transfer what they said accurately?

Then, in the following week, I had a chance to go to a hospital to interview a medical expert for one of my project. When I met him, and after he knew I made this for a class and also may go to publication, he told me that, “If your work just go for a class, I propably could answer your questions and let you do the interview now. But if it is for publication, then I dont think you could interview me today, we have to find another time. I need time to think how to answer your question more properly, since I will take responsiblity to the public for my words.” After hearing this, I felt a little confused and asked him why he could not explain his research and answered my question properly on that day, since I believe he should be able to talk to a general audience about his work anytime since he has already done a long-time research on this area. “Are you worried that  I am not able to translate your meanings accurately to the public?” I asked, “well, journalists always cannot translate it well.” He answered.

At that moment, I suddenly realized what the barrier is between a journalist and a scientist in the class discussion: sometimes, just one side loses credibility in the other side. This is a real example. Then, I explained to the medical expert that I was used to be a scientist before too, and totally understood his concerns. But what I would like to know is just some general knewledge about his research, and I think it should be able to be concluded in simple and clear sentences. “If I were not a journalist, if I were just a patient family member, and ask you this question simply to get some general knowledge about this, then how could you answer me?” I asked, smiling. He silenced. “And, that is all what I wish to ask and show to the audiences in my interview.” I said.

Luckily, this interview was finally done on time after we had a further communication with each other and both had a better understanding with each other. This interview gave me a good example about the barrier between a journalist and a scientist. Although there are many reasons for this phenonemon, and solution is also not an easy one, yet mutal credibility and understanding seems very  important to some extent.


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