Before I get deep into this blog post I feel inclined to state that I do not have a science communication qualification, and the opinions expressed here and my conclusion are entirely of my own.
Recently I was sat on a train, destined for London’s St. Pancras International when I found a Metro newspaper stashed in the tray on the back of the seat in front of me. Due to my utter boredom I decided to try and keep myself entertained and read this newspaper – no matter how ignorant and self-indulgent it is – as I needed some sort of entertainment from the mind-numbing journey. But I found my self not even getting past the front page before I felt upset by how the media has portrayed science, sprawled across the headline was “Human Liver grown on the back of rat”*.
*It was not a full liver, but actually 5mm of liver tissue, a somewhat misleading headline in my opinion.
As a student that is bombarded by the latest scientific developments daily through RSS feeds, Weekly Magazines and Journals I felt as if this news was some what boring and repetitive, with greater more scientifically relevant stories available. Every time I pick a newspaper up – which I will state is not very often – I find myself skimming through, searching for the science stories and I must say every few years a new organ has been grown on the back of a rat. Why must the media aimed at the government’s definition of an “average citizen” report the same old stories? For example, with the liver story go back 20 years ago it was an ear! The “average citizen” will have grasped the concept that we can grow organs and tissue on animals from 20 years ago when the ear was first grown on a rat. Do they really have that little news that they need to republish stories which people have all ready grasped the concept of?
Does the media underestimate the mental capacity of the “average citizen”? Are they insulting their ability to grasp more recent scientific topics, which could be revolutionary or even more interesting than an ear? In fact the same paper reported on the same day about two men being cured by HIV and refused to give this story a front page, but a quarter of a page spread located around page 14 – I maybe wrong on the page number here. This story is huge; Henrich and Kuritzkes have made a huge leap in the battle against HIV and may have proven that Stem Cell therapy works. I would argue the importance of this story over a liver grown on a rat any day, what makes a human liver on a rat more important than a potential cure that is affecting millions (maybe even billions) world wide.
I feel irritated about how the media seems to report the same stories all the time. To me it’s giving a boring, monotonous view on science to people who have the potential to reshape the world and help expand the human race scientific knowledge. I just feel that the media needs to really think about how science is portrayed, a lesson learned in the MMR scandal back in 1998. Granted the MMR scandal is nothing like the liver rat story, but a lot of these journalists reporting have no advanced scientific background. I’d be happy to make an educated guess that their knowledge lies nowhere beyond GCSE or even O level. I’d love to see journalist have to have a degree in science before they would be allowed to write science stories, imagine reading a newspaper story which was factually correct, non-biased and not out to scaremonger. I think I’d be in heaven.