New Book Tells Scientists to Speak Up

Many challenging environmental problems are scientific in nature. If scientists don’t effectively communicate their findings and opinions to the press, special-interest lobbyists, industry spokespeople, and sometimes ill-informed politicians step in to fill the vacuum. The result can be bad, possibly disastrous, decision making. This is why the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) teamed up with Rutgers University Press to publish A Scientist’s Guide to Talking with the Media, a first-of-its-kind public relations handbook for scientists and advocates who use science in their work. Unfortunately, for too many scientists, talking to the press is risky business. Every time a scientist appears in print or on television, he or she is putting a painstakingly acquired reputation on the line. A scientific reputation is built slowly and carefully over years, but a single bad newspaper article can seriously tarnish it overnight.

Written by UCS Media Director Rich Hayes and award-winning science journalist Daniel Grossman, the book is the result of research and interviews conducted with the goal of bridging the divide between scientists and journalists. According to one poll, only 16 percent of scientists are interviewed or written about by journalists more than once a year. Meanwhile, only 49 percent of the scientists were satisfied with the results. Scientists were often fearful of being misquoted and having their reputations damaged. Journalists were frustrated with jargon and scientists’ unwillingness to extrapolate their research to broader conclusions.

The authors recommend that scientists present research and opinions in a way that is simple, but not simplistic. Scientists can develop their own kind of message discipline to ensure that what is printed is accurate and engaging. Doing so will give journalists better information for their stories and improve public understanding of scientific research.

You can purchase a copy of the book directly from UCS.

If you’re a UCS member, you qualify for a 20% discount. If you are not a member, learn about the other benefits you can receive when you join the Union of Concerned Scientists.