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How Scientists And Journalists Can Reach Mutual Understanding

As a public information officer at a research institution—the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.—I work in the middle of a mutual misunderstanding between scientists and the press. Most experienced journalists— including many who specialize in science writing—know surprisingly little about the content or process of science. Working in the news business, constantly under the pressure of deadlines, science writers are charged with finding “discovery&#

George Liles

As a public information officer at a research institution—the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.—I work in the middle of a mutual misunderstanding between scientists and the press.

Most experienced journalists— including many who specialize in science writing—know surprisingly little about the content or process of science. Working in the news business, constantly under the pressure of deadlines, science writers are charged with finding “discovery” stories. Of course, in the real world, scientists rarely bolt from the lab shouting, “Eureka!” Rather, scientific discoveries are almost always ambiguous and qualified, and represent small, incremental steps forward—not the stuff that makes dramatic news stories.

On the other side, the biologists for whom I work have little understanding of the press. Some scientists at my institution are dimly aware that newspaper writers generally will not let you read their copy before publication. Few realize that science writers don’t write their own headlines....

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