The role of science journalism in ensuring good governance in areas that touch the lives of common people was the focal point of a presentation made by P. Radhakrishnan - former deputy director of the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre of the VSSC - at the Science Communicators’ Meet being held at the Kariavattom campus of the University of Kerala as part of the ongoing 97th Indian Science Congress.
Primarily science journalism is the bridge between scientific knowledge and a curious public. As such it can also stimulate a public debate, a societal push for good governance in areas such as energy, health, genetic engineering and global warming, said Dr. Radhakrishnan in his invited talk on ‘Science Journalism for Good Governance’.
However, investigative journalism today is mostly confined to political issues. This should extend to issues pertaining to science and technology too. Science journalists should go beyond chronicling data and enrich their writing with logical and rational interpretations of scientific data. In doing so they would be able to bring out the ‘good, bad and ugly’ of science, Dr. Radhakrishnan said.
While admitting that prolific scientific advancements and a range of specializations in science pose challenges to science journalists, he also pointed out that many scientists are ‘journalist-averse.’ Scientists have to become fully aware that the public have a right to know about what the being done in the name of science; not the intricate details but those aspects that have to do with the physical and economic well-being of society.
Dr. Radhakrishnan cautioned that a prosaic style of writing replete with jargon and peppered with statistical data is something that a science journalist or a science communicator should avoid at all costs. A work of science journalism should be informative, analytical and critical but in a balanced manner.
Beginning with the premise that there aren’t enough science journalists in the country, he went on to argue that science appears to have failed in attracting the attention of the media and that there is insufficient debate in the media about issues pertaining to science and technology. Why has science fiction novels failed to become best sellers in India? Why have publications such as Science Today and Science Age —publications that were very popular decades ago — disappeared from the newsstands? Why are there no regular columns / programmes in many media on science and technology, he wanted to know.
A survey conducted by the Indian Science Writers Association found that only 3 per cent of the news that appears in various media has to do with science. This, Dr. Radhakrishnan pointed out, was against a ‘desirable percentage’ of 15.