Subject: Re: Do We Need a New Evangelist
From: Rich Morin <rdm@cfcl.com>
Date: Sun, 4 Apr 1999 17:20:33 -0700

I think the following extract has relevance to the current dialog.  In
the remainder of the article ("Ritual Abuse, Hot Air, and Missed
Opportunities", Science, 5 March 1999), Michael Crichton explains why
science fares as it does in the media.

-r

"If I were magically put in charge of improving the status and image
 of science, I'd start using the media, instead of feeling victimized
 by them.  The information society will be dominated by the groups of
 people who are most skilled at manipulating the media for their own
 ends.  Under the auspices of a distinguished organization -- like
 AAAS -- I'd set up a service bureau for reporters.  Reporters are
 harried, and often don't know science.  A phone call away, establish
 a source of information to help them, to verify facts, to assist them
 through thorny issues.  Over time, build this into a kind of Good
 Housekeeping seal, so that your denial has power, and you can start
 knocking down phony stories, fake statistics, and pointless scares
 immediately, before they build.  And use this bureau to refer
 reporters to scientists around the country who can speak clearly to
 specific issues, who are quotable, and who can eventually emerge as
 recognizable spokespeople for science in areas of public concern, like
 electromagnetic radiation scares, cancer diets, and breast implant
 litigation.  Convince these scientists that appearing on media isn't
 an ego trip, but part of their job, and a service to their profession.
 Then convince their colleagues.

 Because this pool of scientists will eventually produce media stars,
 you need the profession to respect them, instead of making their lives
 hell.  Carl Sagan took incredible flak from colleagues, yet he performed
 a great service to science. So to, at an earlier time, did Jacob
 Bronowski, who similarly bore heavy criticism.  I am sure there are
 scientists today who might become media figures but don't because they
 correctly foresee professional scorn.  All this must change.  Science
 has dealt with its disdain of the press by turning media work over to
 popularizers.  But popularizers can't do what needs to be done, because
 people see that they aren't really scientists, they're just well-informed
 talkers.

 You need working scientists with major reputations and major accomplish-
 ments to appear regularly on the media, and thus act as human examples,
 demonstrating by their presence what a scientist is, how a scientist
 thinks and acts, and explaining what science is about.  Such media-
 savvy people are found in sports, politics, business, law, and medecine.
 Science needs them too.  And it doesn't hurt if they're characters:
 Richard Feynman, with his strip-tease lunches and pranks and bongo drums,
 did much to put a human face on physics.  He, too, was criticized.

 I recognize that to build a pool of media stars is going to take a minor
 revolution in professional attitudes,  But you have no choice.  I hope I
 have convinced you that you can never convay a sense of real science
 through movies or TV shows.  You can only do that by exposing real scien-
 tists, with wit and charisma, to the waiting public in the media and in
 the classroom."


--
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