Posted tagged ‘media overdose’

(Stolen Tag Line alert): The Way We Live Now

March 25, 2008

Read this. (h/t Grace).

Partly, this is just to wallow in the horror of the contemporary mediastream.

But this is, obliquely, another response to Sean Carroll’s advice to scientists confronting science journalists.  My sober reaction to that post can be found below, but the horror contained in Gene Weingarten’s ordeal gets at the much bigger problem facing public communication of science.

Who the hell is going to hear it amidst all that noise?

That’s certainly a problem for science on TV, something with which I’ve had some experience.  When I started at NOVA in 1986, there were, really, just four networks:  the commercial webs and PBS.  On PBS, at least two, and often more of the fifteen weekday primetime hours were devoted to science.  Not a lot — but actually visible in the schedule.  Throw in a couple more on average, what with specials and limited series, and you’d get something like 4 hours per 60 for all four national broadcast soures as a minimum.

Now, with my cheapest-possible-digital cable, I have about 60 channels at my disposal.  None of them, with one possible exception, are all-science channels.  Except for my local PBS outlet, very few run much science or tech at all.  The signal to noise ratio has gotten much worse in 20-odd years, and even PBS  has seen an erosion of its high profile science portfolio.

And so on.  The litany of lost print jobs for science writers is an old one.  The science blogosphere is a help, an entirely new source of science news and opinion — but I’ll offer the heresy that pull media has more impact on its users and less impact on the culture than ubiquitous push offerings.  (I.e. — those who trouble to read blog posts get a lot out of them; but a nationally broadcast series like Cosmos has the ability to change thinking in a much more culture-moving way because it reachs people who do not self select in the same way.)

All of which is a long way round to saying, somewhat glumly, that to some extent the good advice that Sean provides, and the various addenda with which his commenters enriched the stew seem to me on bad days like rearranged deck chairs on the Titanic.  On good days, it makes me think that we actually need to conceive of our stories somewhat differently.  For an example I’ll blog about as soon as I move my book revision forward some:  take this article from Friday’s NYT, about resistance to childhood vaccination, and ask yourself what’s missing from this not-bad report?

Image: Pieter Breugel the Elder, “Tower of Babel,” 1563.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.