The media is often accused of hyping research to attract interest. But many distortions and misunderstandings arise because scientists themselves fail to communicate results in a meaningful way.
Now a new set of guidelines designed to help scientists communicate effectively with the media has been drawn up. The guidelines were framed by the eu-funded messenger project. They have been produced by the Oxford uk- based Social Issues Research Centre (sirc) and the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ascor) in the Netherlands. There have been cases where research results have been hyped, or simply misinterpreted by journalists, leading in some cases to widespread public anxiety.The researchers cite the example of the anxiety caused in the uk by a physician's comment on certain vaccines.
A large part of the guidelines is dedicated to the communication of risks and benefits. "To a scientist a risk is simply the statistical probability that an event will occur multiplied by the hazard presented by that event," the authors write. "This is not, however, the way that ordinary people think."
The guidelines recommend that risks and benefits should be stated meaningfully,with absolute risks clearly stated so that increased risks can be properly understood. The report also recommends that scientists talk to their institution's press and communications officers prior to communicating with the media.
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