“Science is value free. So is a gun.” And similarly, science writing is used instrumentally towards political and social ends, exemplified most clearly in the Daily Mail’s schizophrenic reporting of the cervical cancer vaccine; they were ferociously negative in Britain where the vaccine is legal, yet wrote with impassioned outrage that the drug was not available in Ireland.
Here, British science writer and medical doctor Ben Goldacre describes the problems with science coverage in the mainstream media. In the Times Literary Supplement there are plenty of references to authors you’ve never heard of, yet with scientific pieces editors insist on dumbing down the content. Goldacre laments the lack of challenging and interesting science writing and points to the approach of Radio 4, in which the vast majority of material comes from the scientists themselves, as the correct approach.
Clearly in the case of the cervical cancer vaccine, the reports were not about the suitability of the trial process or the validity of the scientific conclusions but about political agendas; this is Goldacre’s main grievance with science writing not by scientists.
He does, however, identify the huge potential of the new mass media to change the way science is reported. Whether it be a lecture recording that goes viral or a fantastically entertaining and eloquent blogger, there are many channels to bring great science to the public sphere.