MRC scientists and the media : attitudes to and experiences of reporting their findings to the public

Gething, Leverne (2001-12)

Thesis (MPhil)--University of Stellenbosch, 2001.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Background: Scientists seem to have an 'international corporate culture' of mistrusting the media. Attitudes of South African scientists to the media and their experiences of reporting findings to the public and media have not been documented. The South African Medical Research Council (MRC) is a statutory research body with an excellent research record - but awareness of the MRC among the South African public is almost non-existent. The MRC needs to publicise and increase knowledge of its goals and research findings by promoting scientists' engagement with the public and other stakeholders. Objective: A postal survey was carried out among MRC scientists to obtain a 'baseline' indication of attitudes and experiences regarding communication to the public and media. Results would inform development and implementation of strategies to fast-track a turnaround in culture at the MRC towards promotion of science communication. Method: A questionnaire with prompted responses was sent to 253 MRC scientists. One hundred were returned (39.5%), representing an impressive assemblage of the MRC's research leaders. Findings: Although 48.9% of the scientists had each published over 30 articles in peerreviewed journals, 38.9% had never had these articles mentioned in the lay media. Yet the scientists regard 'the public' and 'policy makers' as the most important groups they should communicate with, and most think the public glean their knowledge of scientific research and its implications from the lay media. The scientists might not trust the media to provide accurate scientific information, but they feel that the general public do. The vast majority (92.8%) strongly agree or tend to agree that they have a duty to communicate their research and its implications to the public, and 70.8% would like to spend more time on this. However, the scientists also agree that the day-to-day requirements of their jobs leave them with too little time to communicate the implications of their research to others (47.5%) or even to get on with research (36.4%). Most of the scientists had never had contact with the media, or only every few years. When the source or subject ofa news story, 65.4% had been either 'very satisfied' or 'somewhat satisfied' with the coverage. Many of their comments reflected unrealistic expectations which can only be addressed by training in what the media are all about. Most (86.9%) had never had any training in dealing with the media, but 80.8% would be interested in such training. Conclusions: It is clear that the scientists generally want to communicate and see the potential benefits. For the MRC to become a communicating organisation it must spell out to its scientists the importance and value placed on their communication activities. Science communication and development of links with community and media should be seen as part and parcel of scientific research, and given due recognition and support. Policies must be agreed and communicated with the scientists about recognising, encouraging and rewarding such efforts. The MRC also needs a clear media strategy giving guidelines on specific situations, as well as on the Ingelfinger rule.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Agtergrond: Dit kom voor asofwetenskaplikes 'n 'internasionale gedragskode' het om die media te wantrou. Gesindhede van Suid-Afrikaanse wetenskaplikes teenoor die media en hulle ondervinding van die bekendmaking van hulle bevindinge aan die publiek en die media is nog nooit opgeteken nie. Die Suid-Afrikaanse Mediese Navorsingsraad (MNR) is 'n statutêre navorsingsliggaam met 'n uitstekende navorsingsgeskiedenis - maar die Suid-Afrikaanse publiek is haas onbewus van sy bestaan. Die MNR moet sy doelwitte en navorsingsbevindinge openbaar maak deur wetenskaplikes se kontak met die publiek en ander belangegroepe te bevorder. Doelwit: 'n Posopname is onder die MNR se wetenskaplikes gedoen om 'n 'basislyn' aanduiding van hulle gesindhede teenoor en ondervinding van kommunikasie met die publiek en media te verkry. Die resultate hiervan sal die ontwikkeling and implimentering van strategie om 'n vinnige handomkeer in gebruike by die MNR ten einde die bevordering van wetenskapskommunikasie te weeg te bring, stuur. Metode: 'n Vraelys met voorgestelde antwoorde is aan 253 MNR wetenskaplikes gestuur. Eenhonderd is teruggestuur (39.5%), wat 'n indrukwekkende groep van die MNR se navorsingsleiers verteenwoordig. Bevindinge: AlhoeweI48.9% van die wetenskaplikes elk al meer as 30 artikels in portuurevalueerde joernale publiseer het, het 38.9% nog nooit enige dekking in verband met hierdie artikels in die lekemedia ontvang nie. Desondanks beskou die wetenskaplikes' die publiek' en 'beleidmakers' as die mees belangrike groepe waarmee hulle moet kommunikeer. Die meeste dink ook die publiek verkry hul kennis van wetenskaplike navorsing en die gevolge daarvan vanuit die lekemedia. Die wetenskaplikes mag nie die media vertrou om akkurate wetenskaplike inligting weer te gee nie, maar hulle dink die algemene publiek vertrou wel die media. Die oorgrote meerderheid (92.8%) stem sterk saam of stem saam dat hulle 'n verpligting het om hulle navorsing en die implikasies daarvan met die publiek te deel, en 70.8% sou graag meer tyd hieraan wou afstaan. Die wetenskaplikes stem egter ook saam dat die dag tot-dag eise van hulle beroep te min tyd oorlaat om die implikasies van hulle navorsing aan ander te kommunikeer (47.5%) of om selfs hulle navorsing te doen (36.4%). Die meeste van die wetenskaplikes het nog nooit enige kontak met die media gehad nie, of dan wel slegs met tussenposes vanjare. Wanneer hulle die bron ofonderwerp van 'n nuusstorie was, was 65.4% óf 'baie tevrede' óf 'effens tevrede' met die dekking. Baie van hul kommentaar dui op onrealistiese verwagtinge wat slegs aangespreek kan word deur opleiding oor die 'hoe' en 'wat' van die media. Die meeste (86.9%) het nog nooit enige opleiding gehad om met die media te werk nie, maar 80.8% sou belangstel in sulke opleiding. Gevolgtrekkings: Dit is duidelik dat die wetenskaplikes oor die algemeen wil kommunikeer en ook die moontlike voordele daarvan insien. Om 'n kommunikerende organisasie te word, moet die MNR die belang en waarde wat geheg word aan wetenskaplikes se kommunikasieaktiwiteite, aan hulle uitspel. Wetenskaplike kommunikasie en die vorming van netwerke met die gemeenskap en die media moet gesien word as 'n deel van wetenskaplike navorsing en moet paslike erkenning en ondersteuning geniet. Beleid rakende die herkenning, aanmoediging en beloning van sulke pogings moet vasgestel en oorgedra word aan die wetenskaplikes. Die MNR het ook 'n duidelike mediastrategie nodig wat riglyne oor spesifieke situasies en die Ingelfinger reël gee.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/52347
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