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[SANET-MG] pr spinning out of control
pr spinning is replacing the traditional dictum "full and truthful
reporting" in science. The pr spin is bad enough but the academic goon
squads who go after those they disagree with are most fearful.
Nature 432, 657 (09 December 2004); doi:10.1038/432657b
Spinning out of control
Researchers should beware of 'public relations' screens that are
anything but helpful to science communication.
Those who report on science should give constant thanks to those
scientists who explain their work with generosity and patience. Cynics
who argue that researchers just crave publicity should recognize that
the enthusiasm with which such information is typically imparted belies
any suspicion of self-serving motives.
Paradoxically, this willingness to engage with journalists is threatened
by the idea in the scientific community of 'public engagement'. Many
companies and research institutes now have slick PR offices in which the
ethos is informed not by the scientific tradition of exchange and
interaction, but by a culture of marketing. It may be natural that
organizations want to trumpet their achievements in triumphant press
releases, and journalists are generally canny enough to decode the hype.
And it is unsurprising that large companies often demand that their
researchers be chaperoned in interviews by press officers.
It is more disturbing when government-funded research agencies, such as
the US National Institutes of Health, erect PR screens between their
scientists and the media, so that all correspondence is mediated via
e-mail by a press officer. One result is that scientists might come to
believe it sufficient to respond to enquiries about publicly funded
research with chunks of management jargon.
A recent set of questions from a journalist was sifted by this mechanism
to elicit the following response, doctored here to spare some blushes:
"Based on past and current progress, the NIH believes that
mouthwashology is a key enabling technology platform with the potential
to transform the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of halitosis. NIH's
recently announced Alliance for Halitosis is designed to facilitate and
accelerate the progress of the twenty-first century research teams
needed to realize the promise of these and future mouthwash technologies
for halitosis sufferers." A polite follow-up message from the reporter,
tactfully refraining from pointing out that this statement was useless
to any self-respecting journalist but suggesting that it failed to
address any of the questions originally posed, met with stony silence.
It will be a sad day if scientists start to believe that this sort of
bland and meaningless corporate-speak absolves them of the
responsibility to tell people what they are actually doing.
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