In this thought-provoking Guardian op-ed, science journalist Brooke Borel touches on the importance of addressing conflicts of interest and transparency.
- “As a science journalist, a lot of your time is spent reporting on new studies, natural phenomena and how research may affect our lives. But there is another key piece to science, and that is the people who produce it. When we ignore these people – or omit key facts that cast researchers or their work in a negative light – we miss important stories.”
- “Should political journalists stick to positive profiles of politicians? Should business writers only consider the positives from a company’s actions? Should those who write about literature ignore the intent of the pieces they cover? Of course not. And the same goes for science.”
- “Part of the problem is a continued misunderstanding of what science journalism is, and how it differs from other forms of science communication. At its best science communication, like any nonfiction writing, tries to portray truth. Science communicators do this by explaining how a natural phenomenon works, or highlighting how scientists learned something new. But how that truth is portrayed – and what is included or left out – depends on the writer’s intentions.”
- “Science journalists may write about science, but it’s also our job to look beyond wonders, hypotheses and data. It is to look at the people doing the science and whether they have conflicts of interest, or trace where their money is coming from. It is to look at power structures, to see who is included in the work and who is excluded or marginalized, whether because of gender or race or any other identity.”
- “As journalists we fail to do justice to what science is by somehow artificially presenting it as an inhuman, dispassionate inquiry. It’s human. People make human decisions,” says Deborah Blum, a science journalist and current director of Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT. “And anyone who works in the process of science who is honest about that will say that. If we’re any good at what we do, we present science in a full human context.”
- “The fact remains that the production of scientific knowledge thrives on criticism and debate – look no further than the peer review process and the dreaded, though perhaps mythical, third reviewer who is notoriously harsh or the heated conversations in the Q&A sessions at scientific conferences for proof. Science journalists are not science advocates. And scientists aren’t science. When we confuse one for the other, it’s not just an innocent matter of semantics – it’s a great disservice both to readers and to science.”