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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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Press primer for managers

Press Primer for Managers

Steve Maran

Press Officer

American Astronomical Society

Main topics
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

Talking to the press stay alert

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-Mann

Talking 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

Framing science
Framing Science

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

Framing Science - 2

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).

Framing Science -3

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.

Framing Science - 4

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.”

Framing Science - 5

  • Frames Used by Opponents of the Scientific Consensus on Global Warming:

  • "scientific uncertainty"

  • "unfair economic burden"

  • Frames Used by Supporters of the Scientific Consensus on Global Warming:

  • Democratic leaders: "a 'Pandora's box' of catastrophe“

  • Certain Evangelical leaders: "matter of religious morality“

  • Various opinion makers: "public accountability" - i.e., criticizing the Administration for interfering with free communication of climate science research

Framing Science - 6

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)

When Do You Announce a Discovery?

In real time?

Before or After refereeing?

Upon publication?

Real time announcements
Real Time Announcements

  • The Good-

    “We found a supernova that you can see with the naked eye right now in the LMC”

  • The Bad-

    “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.)

Real Time Announcements - 2

  • The Ugly

  • Title and lead paragraph of a scientist’s press release on March 11, 1998:


  • Recent orbit computations on an asteroid discovered last December indicate it virtually certain that it will pass within the moon's distance of the earth a little more than 30 years from now. The chance of an actual collision is small, but one is not entirely out of the question.

  • “Most major news organizations reported the threat, which scientists later withdrew.”

Before or after refereeing
Before or after refereeing?

"...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)

Before or after refereeing 2
Before or after refereeing? - 2



  • July 1993: Danish & other scientists declare climate inherently unstable so that the Earth "might plunge without warning into a new ice age." (Quote from reporter Nicholas Wade)

  • February 1993: Scientists at Harvard Medical School & Massachusetts General Hospital claim a new triple-drug therapy that they say "may be the Achilles heel" of the AIDS virus. (Quote attributed to the science team by Wade)

  • July 1991: Discovery of the first exoplanet“ by radio astronomers at the University of Manchester.

    --From Nicholas Wade, Method and Madness - When Experts Err, New York Times Magazine (February 6, 1994, p.12).

Before or after refereeing 3
Before or after refereeing? - 3


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.

Before or after refereeing 4
Before or after refereeing? - 4


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)

Bottom line on announcing before or after refereeing
Bottom Line on Announcing Before or After Refereeing

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

Breaking News from the Mauna Kea Observatories

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

Collective format individual announcements the good
Collective Format,Individual Announcements--The Good--

  • Identical format for teleconference briefings or ultimately, webcasts and for media advisories that announce the briefings

  • The individual observatory making each announcement takes responsibility, pays costs (but see bottom bullet)

  • Establishes a “brand” of Mauna Kea Observatories announcements that reporters will heed, like the “Hubble Space Telescope” brand developed by NASA.

  • Enhances public appreciation of Observatories on MK

  • Likely candidate for foundation grant for new kind of international cooperation in public information/education

Collective Format, Individual Announcements -2---The Bad--

  • Must convince your sponsoring institutions to approve this process

    Institutions can make simultaneous releases through their own channels

  • Must convince scientist-authors to use this process

    Authors’ institutions can make simultaneous releases too

  • Must convince funding agencies to sign off on these announcements

    Agencies can make simultaneous releases also

Collective format individual announcements 2 the ugly
Collective Format, Individual Announcements -2---The Ugly--

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?