Science and the media

Maurice Wilkins explaining the structure of DNA for the BBC.  Photo Kings College London
Maurice Wilkins explaining the structure of DNA for the BBC. Photo Kings College London

Involvement with the media could bring scientists welcome publicity and support for their research, but it was a relationship fraught with potential dangers as well as benefits and pleasures. Not many experienced the personal attacks and harassment that came the way of Sir John Houghton, but they still found the intrusion of the media into their working lives inconvenient and uncomfortable. Houghton was Director of the Meteorological Office in 1987 when his organisation failed to predict accurately a major storm and found the media massing outside his home until events elsewhere distracted them. Others hint at the potential danger for scientific reputations of too much exposure, although public recognition of expertise could also bring personal and institutional rewards. More recently scientists have been encouraged to undertake media training to preparethem for this kind of scrutiny, but they remain wary of the way in which media organisations portray them and their work and are sometimes reluctant to conform to media agendas. More constructive stories emerge of scientists’ encounters with media organisations developing and making science-fiction dramas where they were called upon to act as consultants or found their latest devices on show as props.