SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

What makes a newsworthy story: This is a question asked by journalists and editors.

Look at the 'news worthy'  definition by journalists and editors: 

Newsworthy Vocabulary (1)
When journalists talk about what’s newsworthy, they rely on the five news values below. 


1. Timeliness Immediate, current information and events
are newsworthy because they have just
recently occurred. It’s news because it’s
“new.”
2. Proximity Local information and events are
newsworthy because they affect the people
in our community and region. We care
more about things that happen “close to
home.”
3. Conflict and
Controversy
When violence strikes or when people
argue about actions, events, ideas or
policies, we care. Conflict and controversy
attract our attention by highlighting
problems or differences within the
community.
4. Human Interest People are interested in other people.
Everyone has something to celebrate and
something to complain about. We like
unusual stories of people who accomplish
amazing feats or handle a life crisis because
we can identify with them.
5. Relevance People are attracted to information that
helps them make good decisions. If you like
to cook, you find recipes relevant. If you’re
looking for a job, the business news is
relevant. We need depend on relevant
information that helps us make decisions.

But the scene  changes somewhat  in the arena of science!

Newsworthy in science?  Who decides this? Public or the communicator?

Most scientists in this part of the world, I noticed, are very enthusiastic about communicating their work.  They send me links to their research papers requesting me to communicate their work to the general public.

Instead of using the word 'news-worthy'( the above definitions of journalists and editors don't suit science), I prefer to use the word 'people-friendly' or ' public-utility' stories.

Unlike journalists, as  a researcher  and science communicator , I communicate work only if I think the public will be able to use it in their day to day lives. For instance if the work is about a new research method, no matter how exciting it is or useful it is to the researchers, or how 'news-worthy' it is, it won't be useful  for the general public. I usually stay away from such things because it is the common man I am communicating the work to. 

Sometimes, I observed, even if I think the information would be useful to the general public, they won't be interested in it. Then I try to first explain to the public  why it would be useful to them, what they could gain from the new knowledge and then communicate it. 

But still some people think the knowledge I am imparting won't do any good to them!

Public Perception! It is a strange thing!

If a person with TB says, "The doctor would look after my health. I am paying the fee. Why should I bother about learning about it? Instead  I would go and see a movie. I would get relaxation from the entertainment", what would you do?

Then I would tell the person, "If you learn and know about the antibiotics, you won't stop the treatment in the middle when you feel better. Then the problem of resistance doesn't arise. "

The person says, ''Who cares about resistance? It is the problem of the doctor and the scientists!"

Then I keep explaining the whole process of resistance, disease,  benefits a person gets from learning about antibiotics until the person thinks .... need I fill the blank? :)

What interests the general public is difficult to understand. The stories I thought wouldn't be useful to them attracted large views. The ones I thought would interest them oftentimes were thrown out of the window mercilessly! This really stumps me. When I asked the public themselves why this happens, they  couldn't give me an appropriate answer. They themselves are not sure about their behaviour!

I think the situation changes from time to time and various factors are responsible for this strange behaviour of the general public. We cannot pin point particular reasons for this.

Some of the reasons though are general mood of the public, peer-pressure, 'viral nature' of the subject, strange perceptions and google search engine's complexity in the internet age.

Matching your story to the public's interest is a complex issue because public is made of several people with various interests! But now people themselves are asking questions on the topics of their interest! Connecting the science to the people's lives is an interesting aspect. I do this through art.

But the truth is public should know atleast something about  the subject  too. Otherwise it becomes too tedious for researchers to explain everything in detail.  People should have 'some interest' in learning science to be 'attentive' to what you are saying. Asking only the communicators to do all the hard work is like concentrating only on 'one way traffic'.  We try to create interest. But we succeed only when we get the right 'receptors' too to get attached! Should we also create the right receptors? Hmmm. That is why most researchers think doing research in a lab is much more easier than communicating it! Climbing the knowledge ladder up and down several times is very tedious! A science communicator should have lots of patience.

There is no 'specific time' for imparting scientific knowledge. OK, I understand if you tell people about TB on world TB day, it might create the right tempo but for a disease to occur and to impart knowledge on it or to use the information  there won't be any 'right  time'.  The time is relevant all the  while.

As Science is universal in nature, there isn't anything 'local' about it! We cannot use this parameter in the scientific  world.

Conflict and controversy:  GM crops. Religion and science. Evolution Vs creationism. Pseudo-science. Flat earth theory. Climate  science.  I can name a hundred. All these are news-worthy in science too, I agree. Because they impact us greatly all the time. The very survival of humankind might depend on some of them.

Science communication is not only about research communication.  Sci-com is also a practice of informing, educating, sharing wonderment, and raising awareness of science-related topics. Science communication may generate support for scientific research or study, or to inform decision making, including political and ethical thinking. 

How can a scientist respond in an EI way when  a  person is upset or frustrated with what s/he says?  

How can you express a fact appropriately? Oh, yes you can smile, put your hand on the other person's shoulder caringly, request him/her not to get annoyed and think about what you you say with a cool mind but... yes, there will be 'buts' here ... you have to tell the person the shocking part of it which might undo everything you did before telling him/her that! 

No amount of sugar coating will take away the bitterness of raw facts when people's minds are still lodged in ancient times! This is the fact I realized while dealing with EI when tackling pseudo-science and other absurdities.

They say it is important to have a high  EQ to be happy around people and have good relations with them. And high IQ to succeed in research! In the field of science communication, it seems, you are dead if you don't have a good EQ! That is why the field of Science Communication  looks like a grave yard most of the time!

Hmm, my dear friends,  we deal with high IQs, and medium  EQs in science.

You can analyse the situation and feelings of others but ... yes another ' but' here ... can you ask for forgiveness or apologize for mentioning the facts to maintain good equations with them? Or ask the person to forget what you say? How silly that looks!

Isn't it  important for people around a scientist to have high EQs too to understand a scientific point of view and facts? (2). How could we make our audience take their EQ levels to a higher state so that they could understand the facts as just facts? 

I try to be simple and friendly with people. And mingle with them a lot. People feel happy. When they keep in mind about my position, knowledge, my approachable nature and my behaviour during the communication process,  they don't get 'agitated' much even when I say controversial things. I get away with it most of the time. I myself will be surprised when they just keep quiet. And I am pretty sure they think about what I say. I will be thrilled if they ask for 'more information' on the controversial subject. 

But still some 1% of the (highly emotional) people try to create some trouble.  You cannot completely avoid that!

Human interest, I agree, is news worthy in science too.

Science is relevant all the time, well most of it! Because it is about our own universe, living beings in it, our survival. Studying it, understanding it and using the knowledge for the benefit of all living creatures can change our lives magically. 

The words like 'sensational' and 'eye-ball catching' take back seat in science.  So do 'time', and 'local'.

The words, conflict and controversy, human interest and relevance are pertinent in science.

This is the  researchers' side of the story. 'Pure journalists' have their right to differ with us! :)

( We have a workshop coming up soon and after attending the workshop I will add more information on this topic)

Footnotes:

1. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/app/uploads/2013/11/What-is-News...

2. https://kkartlab.in/group/some-science/forum/topics/why-is-it-diffi...

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