PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Read the paper, and still beat the deadline!

javier cruz-mena  

Research shows that science journalism tends to shy away from citing scientific papers as sources. The problem may be grater in countries without a strong contingent of science journalists, such as in Latin America, where we have studied the issue in the past. We hypothesise that part of the problem is the perception, by journalists, that reading articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature as journalistic sources, although a good aspirational goal, may not be realistic given that they are extremely difficult to read and even more to understand, particularly under the time constraints that are almost always imposed on them. We have developed a relatively simple technique to address this problem. It is based on a profile of "science" which answers the question "how do I recognise science at a glance?" from the perspective of a reporter with no further science background than regular high school. By offering a handful of categories intrinsic to almost every scientific paper, it allows reporters to identify what we call the "journalistic raw materials" within each paper in a timeframe compatible with usual deadlines. (The theoretical basis for this profile of science, as well as the evidence supporting its validity, are presented in the Abstract for an oral presentation already submitted to this Conference by Cruz-Mena et al.) Our technique has been tried -and improved upon- in small workshops in Mexico. In our experience, students and young reporters not used to reading papers have been able to extract useful scientific information from them within a couple of hours. When fully implemented, this technique puts the reporters in an optimal position to design and execute in-depth interviews with the authors of the paper as well as independent scientists in the field.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.