The challenges in communicating technical research


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Journalists participate in a workshop aimed at improving the quality of media coverage concerning REDD+ and wetlands

BALI, Indonesia (25 April, 2011)_Breaking down the complexities of scientific research into digestible chunks is a difficult job for researchers and reporters alike. Working together to overcome this problem is critical for science to get out into the public space.

How to convey scientific information simply, free from jargon and relate it to everyday life are the essential criteria that reporters consider when choosing stories to pursue. After hearing a presentation on the role of wetlands on climate change which made use of comprehensive data, one participant in a journalism training course arranged by CIFOR in conjunction with the Society of Environmental Indonesian Journalists (SIEJ) and Internews, asked how to choose which data would most interest the reader and how to translate it in terms of day-to-day life.

This challenge was one of the topics being tackled by a journalism training course regarding REDD+ and the role of wetlands which took place in Bali on 9-11 April and was attended by 17 participants from national and regional mass media.

The reluctance of journalists to report on scientific research, on one hand, originates from the difficulty in obtaining sources who are prepared to explain technical terms and produce concrete research results. On the other hand, researchers who are trained to discuss data in its most basic form often face difficulties in oversimplifying their research.

“Reporters often ask for a definite answer, whereas scientists search for several certainties or uncertainties about something ,” said Louis Verchot, CIFOR senior climate change researcher. The popular view that scientists must have answers for reporters’ questions is not strictly correct.

Consequently, research results are left to collect dust in the library. “There’s plenty of information available, but no readers,” says Bayu Subekti, a participant from the Forestry Ministry’s communication team. The Centre for Climate Change Research and Development and Policy often experience difficulties in presenting data from research results in popular language, he says.

There are several ways to address this problem. Islaminur Pempasa from the daily publication Peoples’ Thought, for example, takes small details from studies, such as those which relate directly to humanity, to become illustrations of the concluding results of the research. “We only need to do a few supplementary interviews, if needed, to get a complete long news article,” says Islaminur.

Another, more direct way to overcome this problem is to open a dialogue between the two sides. With cooperation and the growth of trust, scientists need not feel unwilling to be quoted as a source, and likewise reporters feel supported because they can understand research results and their influence for policy, while being certain that they are receiving news from a trusted source.

As a result, scientific information in the mass media can be broadcast to a wider audience, attention to research results will rise and scientists will be happier because their studies bring benefit to the wider community.


The original article in Bahasa Indonesia can be found here.

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