Thursday, July 02, 2009

cheerleader or watchdog?

Last week's cover of Nature confronts me with an uncomfortable choice: are science reporters cheerleaders or watchdogs? Well I don't like either of the metaphors, I would be more likely to describe my activity as that of building bridges, translating, communicating, interpreting ... Although there are occasions when I feel that certain parts of science are grotesquely underappreciated so I get out my pompoms and do a bit of cheerleading. More rarely, there are also occasions when I feel that scientists are going against the best interests of society, and I bare my teeth and let out some growling watchdog-like noises. But on the whole I am too busy building bridges across the Two-Cultures-Canyon to be bothered with either the cheering or the barking.

The reports and comments in Nature add to my increasing awareness -- which I talked about at the recent Copenhagen meeting and in my lectures in Germany -- that science reporting is changing quite drastically and rapidly, and we really need to think about how to ensure that the result we want to achieve, i.e. a reasonable level of public understanding of science, and public appreciation of the role science plays in our lives, doesn't fall overboard.

PS What I really don't understand is why the three cartoon characters on the cover had to be all male. Obviously they wanted to avoid the clichee of a female cheerleader, but a female watchdog would have looked really nice next to the male cheerleader ...

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