To Talk or Not to Talk
Berkeley Scholar Says Scientists Should Speak Up
Posted September 15, 1999
A study published in July 16 edition of Science magazine found that when press coverage about controversial technological advances went up, public support for the technology went down. And this held true whether the press reports were positive or negative.
As might be imagined, the study by United Kingdom researchers raised quite a stir in the biotech community.
Many researchers had believed educating the public on the benefits of the technology would swing public opinion in their favor. Now some scientists are wondering whether it's worth talking to the press at all.
According to Berkeley's distinguished Professor Emeritus of Journalism Ben Bagdikian, there's no question about it. Scientists should speak up.
"There has been a great deal of classical research on this topic," he said. "Whether the controversy is about technology or something else, the more the public is told, the less distortion, speculation and rumor occur."
His advice for Berkeley scientists is that when a confirmed scientific finding affects the public, the best thing to do is release information.
"There are going to be exaggerations, inaccuracies and alarm," he said. "That's OK. In the long run, have faith that irrational responses will die down."
He points out that sometimes the media picks up on valid concerns. Then scientists should expect public response will take this into consideration, he said.
In any case, he said, "you should talk about what you know to be true and accurate."