Science Media Centres now exist in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Japan, with more on the horizon. But what are the challenges this growing network of centres face and how should they be tackling them?
At the World Conference of Science Journalists in Doha, Qatar, the representatives from Science Media Centres met to talk about how they perform their core functions. The breakout conference session was based around one the year’s biggest science stories, the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Covering Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: Do Science Media Centres Contribute to Sense or Promote Spin?
Debate rages in the blogopshere on the coverage of Japan. And role of the SMCs, as providers of science information, is under scrutiny.
The Science Media Centre model started in the UK 8 years ago. Now there are SMCs in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and soon, in Denmark. Set up to help journalists cover science when it hits the headlines, the SMCs were at the forefront as the media covered the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear reactor crisis.
But did they in fact manipulate the media by only putting forward “pro”-nuclear scientists – scientists who repeated phrases like “negligible” and “many orders of magnitude below” to an increasingly nervous public? Is there a tendency for some scientists to underplay their concerns for fear of being tagged “anti-nuclear”? Did editors ultimately go with the most alarming narrative because the nuclear scientists were presumed to be ‘playing down’ the threat? What role did the SMCs play in putting forward accurate information the public needed to hear? Ultimately, did the SMCs help or hinder the journalists?