Media Interviews, With Scientists or Anyone

There has been some discussion amongst the science blogs about dealing with interview requests, in this case specifically for scientists. I had thought about saying something from my non-scientist perspective, but hadn’t really come up with anything. Then this morning, going through my Technorati favorites, I saw this story from Carl Zimmer. Now since I really appreciate Carl Zimmer as a science writer, I expected some useful information. I wasn’t disappointed. Besides his own comments he has some excellent material from Kevin Padian, someone who certainly is familiar with being misrepresented.

One part of the problem with interviewers and how they report interviews is simply perspective. Let me give an example that comes directly from Carl Zimmer’s work. I mentioned that I really like his writing, no? Well, here’s a quote from my notes on At the Water’s Edge, the first book of his that I read:

I personally dislike the journalistic style with many intermissions talking about the author interviewing various scientists. Those kinds of things feel like interruptions to me. For many readers, however, I think this view of the scientists personally may well be of interest.

You see, I would be very happy if he had just jumped from discovery to discovery, telling me about the importance and how it fit into the story. Fortunately for the advance of science literacy, Zimmer was doing the writing, and he knows what people are going to read. Had I chosen the contents, there would have been many less readers.

I do think many journalists are very careless, and I could cite a number of stories. But science, and facts in general, need all the publicity they can get. In the absence of interviews with knowledgeable people, the media will print and/or show material of even less quality. As a layperson I appreciate those scientists who take the time to provide interviews, and those journalists and science writers who put out the effort to popularize their material.

The level to which the non-scientist needs to comprehend the subject is much less than that of a specialist, and in general any popularized material is going to appear inaccurate from some perspective.

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