A imprensa sob pressão

domingo, dezembro 11, 2011

The press under pressure

Nature 480, 151 (08 December 2011) 

doi:10.1038/480151a Published online 07 December 2011

With the Leveson inquiry scrutinizing journalistic practice in the United Kingdom, scientists should take the opportunity to fight back against agenda-driven reporting.

Subject terms: Journals, Media, Research community

Everyone has an example of the scientific ignorance of the press, but researchers in Britain probably have more than most. With stories ranging from ludicrous (wind turbine attacked by aliens) to downright irresponsible (promoting the link between childhood vaccinations and autism), the fourth estate in the United Kingdom has hardly covered itself in glory when it comes to science and scientific issues.

Other countries have similar grievances, of course — particularly the United States, where right-wing talk radio and cable television regularly air anti-science views on everything from global warming to creationism. Stem-cell scientists in Germany and transgenic-crop researchers in France have also been assailed by journalism out of step with the scientific evidence that it claims to examine. But there is a sense that the situation is more acute in tabloid-driven Britain, particularly given the distasteful news-gathering techniques that are now under the microscope like never before.

In Britain, eyes are on an inquiry into the standards and ethics of the press, headed by Lord Justice Brian Leveson. Widely known as the 'phone-hacking inquiry', triggered as it was by revelations about the extent of illegal eavesdropping at the now-defunct News of the Worldnewspaper, the judicial investigation in fact has a much wider scope. In his opening remarks, Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, said that he expected members of the scientific community to submit evidence that sections of the press were causing real harm by not basing their commentaries on evidence and not applying the scientific method to their reports. But his remarks seem to have surprised many within the community he was referring to — a subsequent search by the Science Media Centre, an advocacy group in London, found just a single planned submission, and it now intends to send its own.

This is a wasted opportunity. Too often, talk about the difficult relationship between the media and science gets bogged down in well-meaning but ultimately naive discussion of how to 'help' reporters to get their facts straight. Should journalists send stories to scientists to be vetted before publication? Should they have scientific training? Should scientists be trained to offer sound bites?