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August 23, 2021 Monday 11:35:32 AM IST

The Need for Effective Science Communication Through Mainstream Media

Best Practices

Science communication might be intimidating for scientists while scientific jargon and terminology might sound all Greek and Latin to readers. Scientists can collaborate with science communicators to make it easier for the common man to understand science and distinguish between good science and bad science.  Good science uses scientific, systematic and verifiable method of enquiry for determining the nature of objective reality. 

To get deeper insights into the importance of science communication, Pallikkutam reached out to Sangeetha Unnithan, who was recently awarded PhD by the University of Kerala on the topic Science Communication Through Mainstream Media. The research was done under the guidance of Prof J V Vilanilam, Former Vice Chancellor of University of Kerala and Dr MS Harikumar, Asst Professor at the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Kerala. Currently, she is Senior Manager, Corporate Communications at Toonz Animation, Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram.

Importance of Science Communications

Issues related to science and the diffusion of knowledge are central to many social, political and economic debates in our society today. However, a huge section of the Indian population still remains unaware of the scientific and technological advancements made by our country. And this is not restricted to rural India alone. Even in urban centres and amongst the educated class, the lack of a scientific approach to civic life is quite glaring. This could be attributed, to a large extent, to the poor level of public engagement with science in this country. My study stems from the understanding that science communication and propagation of science and development initiatives are imperative to building an informed citizenry.
Despite the stupendous advancements made by mankind, we continue to struggle with a plethora of challenges in different spheres of life. Science and Technology (S & T) lie at the core of many of these contemporary issues, and hence, the dire need and urgency to communicate issues related to S & T. From topics such as Covid-19 pandemic to climate change, natural disasters, unethical use of technology and many more, public understanding of science is of utmost importance today, more than ever before.

Research Findings

•The level of public engagement with science through mainstream media is very low in our country.
•The majority of Science & Technology (S&T) news stories fail to grab the attention of the audience because of poor presentation, positioning, and prioritization.
•Coverage of S & T topics is way off balance, with undue focus on a select few topics.
•Several key development issues remain seriously under-reported.
•Analytical stories that probe and discuss different aspects of contemporary S & T debates, such as climate change, rural development, ethical aspects of emerging technologies, etc., are negligible.
•The number of stories discussing new ideas and innovations is considerably lower.
•A very low percentage of news stories evoke any level of audience engagement in terms of readability, topical relevance, and usability of information/message.

What is lacking in Science reporting?

As you can see from my findings, science is not given sufficient importance in the media. Although you might find several science-related stories in the media, very few of them are about real issues that affect the common man or are related to our developmental needs. A large section of so-called S & T stories is either promotional stories or pop science stories – which are only meant to entertain us, not educate or enlighten us. Apart from this, coverage of relevant S & T stories often fails to engage the audience positively

STEM in Schools

This is not strictly related to my field of study. It’s more related to educational technology and pedagogic studies. However, I personally feel that Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) learning could be made far more interesting, inclusive, and real-world oriented in schools. Also, I would strongly advocate sensitising children about contemporary science and social-related issues at a very young age, so that they grow up to become responsible, sensible citizens with a strong scientific temper.

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Dhanya AK

Dhanya AK is a journalist with over a decade of experience in print, broadcast and online media. She holds a PG Diploma in PR and Advertising from Kerala Media Academy.   Read more articles..