Baby Steps: Why Small Science Stories are Boring
Posted by Jenna Capyk on September 27, 2011
In this metaphor, each puzzle piece represents one small discovery, one finding, one scientific paper. This is what makes it so difficult to write traditional news stories about most scientific findings: they just don’t say much on their own. Imagine trying to get a balanced, accurate, and vivid picture of a whole puzzle by interviewing someone very familiar with one piece. Unless the interviewee is uncommonly enlightened, that interview is going to be slanted toward the minutiae of that piece. Don’t get me wrong, those details can be incredibly fascinating to the correct audience, but will not necessarily capture the attention of many people outside of the immediate field. Further problematic, from a reporting point of view, is the need for endless qualifiers and indefinite language in the description of a single discovery. Because each piece on it’s own doesn’t say too much, a conscientious scientist really can’t say that it does. Often this has the effect of watering down a discovery to the point of complete irrelevance in the minds of many consumers.
As I see it, it follows that one problem with scientific communication in the mainstream media is a need to adapt reporting methodologies to reflect the nature of scientific subjects. Often interviewing a single voice about a “new discovery” results in an unbalanced story or one that is simply boring to most people. For the most part, scientific advancement is pretty hard to pigeon-hole into the “breaking news” category. They’re different kinds of stories, requiring a different communication approach to help everyone see just how amazing they really are.