Communication Training and Science: Making Sure the Right Results Are Heard
Accuracy is an essential part of science communication, especially with the surge of digital channels and citizen culture that expects collaboration and transparency.
The media and scientists play an equal role in ensuring science information and research are reported accurately. Occasionally, research details can be miscommunicated.
In one case, Dr. Steffanie Strathdee had recently won a young investigators award for her research on Vancouver’s needle exchange program. A component of the program was to help reduce disease.
Strathdee’s study found that HIV had become more prevalent in Vancouver since the introduction of the program. Her research team concluded their “results don’t argue against the overall effectiveness of needle exchange programs,” rather, such programs can’t operate in a vacuum. Other resources, like accessible housing and addiction treatment, must also be accessible to keep HIV prevalence low.
But some of the media (specifically in the United States, according to Strathdee) misinterpreted her research. Stories about the uselessness of needle exchange programs flooded the papers.
“I was crushed,” Strathdee said. “For years afterwards I was presenting the data over and over again, trying to set the record straight. I met with cops and the press and policy officials just trying to undo the damage.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon experience with science research and the media. Many scientists say they’ve had a similar experience, where inaccurate reporting has led to serious consequences.
So how do scientists ensure their information and research is reported correctly?
- Decide if media coverage is in your best interest
If you are unsure about the newsworthiness of your information and research or feel that your research will have a greater impact later, do not feel like you must agree to media coverage.
- Keep it simple
Remember that your audience, especially when speaking to the media, may be from a non-science industry, so it’s important to communicate your findings in an easy to understand way.
- Learn the best practices – that’s where we come in
Communication Training and Science: Tying it all Together
The Canadian Centre for Science Communication offers science communication training to grow your skills with the media and help you make sure the right results are heard. Our workshop, Speaking the Same Language ™ Effectively Engaging the Media and Media Training, will help you learn to evaluate the newsworthiness of your information and research, how to engage with various types of media, and the best practices for conducting media interviews.