Press Primer for Managers. Steve Maran Press Officer American Astronomical Society. Main Topics. Talking to the press – sensitive matters other than emergencies When to make a big science announcement Vision for increased media recognition of MKO and their accomplishments.
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American Astronomical Society
From page 74 of A Scientist's Guide to Talking with the Media, by Richard Hayes & Daniel Grossman (Rutgers University Press, 2006):
"I engaged in an informal conversation with an environmental reporter from the Las Vegas Review Journal prior to the formal interview ...To my chagrin, some of my informal comments were quoted out of context in the news article. "
Carol Sing, environmental pollution control expert, Henderson, Nevada
From Scientific American, Letters to the Editors, p.10, June 1992
"I had kidded around with reporter John Horgan as I would have with an old drinking buddy; had I been less tired, I would have known better and treated him the way a suspect should treat a homicide detective."
Murray Gell-MannTalking to the Press? Stay Alert!
What Happens with Unprepared RemarksTwo clips from a newspaper story stimulated by a NASA official’s off-the-cuff comments in a National Public Radio interview
People you can't seem to reason with on a particular issue can include some
Community leaders / Opinion makers
Activists of all kinds
Fellow scientists, engineers, technical managers
Examples of such topics:
Human-induced global warming,
Evolution vs. Creationism/Intelligent Design,
Embryonic stem cell research
Scientists think that improving science education will increase the acceptance of scientifically derived conclusions/positions
Communications researchers think they know better.
This discussion follows the short article, "Framing Science" by Nisbet & Mooney (Science, 6 April 2007, p.56).
Quotes are from Nisbet & Mooney
People usually do NOT weigh the arguments on both sides of a question
They "use their value predispositions (such as political or religious beliefs) as perceptual screens, selecting news outlets and Web sites whose outlooks match their own."
"Scientists must...'frame' information to make it relevant to different audiences" instead of assuming that they can educate most people to understand their message.
Global Warming Controversy - Human-Induced or Not
Different attitudes correlate with political affiliation, not education-
Fraction of college educated citizens who attribute global warming to human activity by political affiliation:
Republicans 23% Democrats 75%
WHY? To paraphrase Bill Clinton,
“It’s the frames, stupid.”
In public debate, many scientists prefer "to safely stick to the facts." This approach is ethical but it often is doomed,
BECAUSE "...facts will be repeatedly misapplied and twisted in direct proportion to their relevance to the political debate and decision-making" In short, as unnatural as it might feel, in many cases, scientists should strategically avoid emphasizing the technical details of science when trying to defend it.“
CONCLUSION Don’t mess with the facts, but frame your position or rely on spokespersons who can.
(Quotes are from Nisbet & Mooney)
In real time?
Before or After refereeing?
“We found a supernova that you can see with the naked eye right now in the LMC”
“This seems to be a Type I supernova.”
(Approximate quote from a press report filed by a reporter who stood over the shoulder of an astronomer getting one of the first good spectrograms of SN1987A at an observing console in Chile.)
"...a press that equates a peer-reviewed experiment with a public relations document should expect the public to equate Time with the National Enquirer."
--From an editorial, "Credibility in Science and the Press," by the Editor of Science, Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. (Vol. 254, No. 5032, p.629, 1 November 1991)
THREE FAMOUS REFEREED PAPERS IN NATURE
THAT WERE WRONG
--From Nicholas Wade, Method and Madness - When Experts Err, New York Times Magazine (February 6, 1994, p.12).
WHY THREE FAMOUS REFEREED PAPERS IN NATURE WERE WRONG
Danish Ice Age warning- Based on bottom section of a Greenland ice core;
This later was shown by another science team to be churned and mixed up
by glacier flows over rough bedrock, producing the false appearance of
rapid back-and-forth climate changes. Bad sample?
Harvard/Mass General AIDS breakthrough- Senior colleagues found that
student's lab data (basis of the paper) overlooked some mutations which
inactivated the virus independently of the drug therapy. Bad analysis?
Manchester pulsar planet- Principal Investigator realized that computations
"failed to allow completely for the fact discovered by Kepler in 1609 that the
earth's orbit around the sun is not circular but slightly elliptical."
Bad data processing?
BOTTOM LINE: refereeing is a hit or miss proposition.
THREE FAMOUS UNREFEREED ANNOUNCEMENTS THAT WERE WRONG
From K.C. Cole & Robert Lee Hotz, "Science, Hype and Profit: a Perilous Mix, Los Angeles Times (January 24, 1999)
December 1993: South Korean researchers claim "first step toward human cloning“* by combining a woman's adult stem cell with one of her eggs to create an embryo.
November 1998: Massachusetts biotech firm announces combining human embryo cells and animal cells for first time.
May 28, 1997: "An Iowa physicist created a continuing international stir with his suggestion that Earth's atmosphere is bombarded every day by thousands of fluffy snow comets -- weighing up to 40 tons.“*
*(Quotes from Cole & Hotz)
The author and their institution will ultimately
gain fame or blame for the “big announcement,” whether refereed or not.
It’s up to you to be sure of your message when you proceed to deliver it
Today’s report is from the
Canada-France-Hawaii-Telescope ¤Joint Astronomy Centre
Caltech Submillimeter Observatory NASA Infrared Telescope Facility
Gemini Observatory Subaru Telescope
W.M. Keck Observatory Smithsonian/Taiwan Submillimeter Array
University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy
Institutions can make simultaneous releases through their own channels
Authors’ institutions can make simultaneous releases too
Agencies can make simultaneous releases also
Teleconferences or webcasts must be live at inconvenient times depending on prime target media
USA mainland press working hours across 3 time zones
West European press
Japanese and other Asian media
Observatory press officers will need extensive R&R after coordinating each
press conference with multiple institutions, scientists, and funding agencies
What better place for R&R than Hawaii?