Science communication in New Zealand

Here’s an interesting discussion from TVNZ’s Media7 programme (see video below). A discussion on the problems and issues with science communication in New Zealand.

Russel Brown discusses this with the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the Science Media Centre’s Peter Griffin and NZ Herald’s feature Writer Chris Barton.

It’s an interesting discussion covering aspects like:

  • The lack of journalists with scientific background;
  • The low priority given to science by the media;
  • Poor communication skill of many scientists;
  • The Crown Research Institutes’ bureaucracy’s fear of the media and subsequent restriction on contact with scientists, and
  • The relative freedom of university scientists.

sciblogsThe NZ Sciblogs new blogging platform was also discussed. Due to be launched this month this will provide a platform for blogging scientists. About 20 scientists are involved initially but this will expand as more come on board. Peter Griffin hopes that this will encourage development of a new crop of science communicators.

Download the audio file: (media7_s3_e8_part1.mp3)

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See also:
NZ science bloggers – new opportunity
NZ scientists twittering

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5 responses to “Science communication in New Zealand

  1. As a journalist with a formal science qualification (I’m a Physics BSc) and experience working in science communictions*, I’ve found it best to keep quite about my background – most New Zealand publishers are suspicious, possibly scared, of the subject.

    It’s frustrating.

    *I worked for the Science and Engineering Research Council in the UK communicating space science, higher energy physics and related subjects immediately before moving to New Zealand in 1987.

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  2. Good to see this. One small nitpick: what Peter said was good, but needs to keep his head up!

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  3. Interesting comment, Bill.

    Does this suggest that the problem is higher up than the working journalists? I would have though editors and publishers would welcome extra skills like this. Perhaps they are afraid that journalists who understand science may not communicate as well as those ignorant of it?

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  4. Ken, the problem is higher up, but its complicated.

    My science background meant I got roped in to run the Dominion’s Computer Pages – back when they were still called the Computer Pages. At the time they made a huge amount of money, possibly the bulk of the paper’s revenue. So I suppose my skills were put to their maximum economic utility (as economists would say).

    When I expressed an interest in covering science stories I was knocked-back. In fact I’ve never written science stories in New Zealand (although I have in the UK and in Australia).

    If I ever started talking about science, to other journalists, newspaper executives or others in management, you could see their eyes glaze over.

    Incidentally, I’m amazed at the weird overseas science stories used as filler material in the back pages of the NZ Herald. Whoever picks these appears to just pluck them randomly out of thin air and run then with zero context. So, for example, you’ll see things that belong in science or medical journals alongside stories about the Yeti or Loch Ness Monster.

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  5. I gather from friends who are science journalists that many editors tend to regard science as something people aren’t interested in – applies to TV as well, which is probably why there’s so little decent NZ-based science content in prime-time TV.
    Have to agree with you on the Herals, Bill! They give me some good blog fodder from time to time, with their uncritical, no-context ‘science’ items πŸ™‚

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