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New survey reveals Europeans' views on science in the media

A majority of Europeans are interested in science, and well over half are satisfied with the way science is presented in the media, according to a Eurobarometer survey on scientific research in the media. The survey was launched at the First European Forum on Science Journali...

A majority of Europeans are interested in science, and well over half are satisfied with the way science is presented in the media, according to a Eurobarometer survey on scientific research in the media. The survey was launched at the First European Forum on Science Journalism in Barcelona, Spain, along with two additional studies which canvassed the opinions of researchers and media professionals on their experiences and opinions of science communication and the media. 'There is so much science being done that has a direct impact on our daily lives, and it is important that the public is able to find out about it and engage with scientists,' said European Science and Research Commissioner, Janez Potocnik. 'The media has an immensely important role to play here, both in keeping people informed about scientific developments and in shaping how society perceives scientists and the work they do. I hope this first European Forum on Science Journalism will be the start of a renewal of the dialogue between scientists and the media.' According to the Eurobarometer, some 57% of Europeans claim to be interested in scientific research. Interest is particularly high (over 70% of citizens interested) in the Nordic and Benelux countries plus France, while at the other end of the scale three quarters of Bulgarians claim to have little or no interest in the subject. In general, interest is higher in the older EU Member States than the newer Member States. Furthermore, while citizens of the pre-2004 Member States are more interested in medicine, environment and energy, the EU's newer citizens want to know more about information technology and space. On science in the media, 56% of those polled claimed to be satisfied, a quarter were dissatisfied and 20% had no opinion. Digging further into the statistics reveals that people who had already expressed an interest in science were more likely to be happy with the performance of the media. When asked in greater detail about their opinion of science coverage in the media, over 60% described it as reliable, objective and useful. However, around half said it was difficult to understand. The importance attached to ease of understanding was backed up by another question which asked what people found most important when confronted with a piece of news about science. Top of the list was ease of understanding, followed by the topic and the usefulness of the news to the person. The question of ease of understanding was also raised in the survey of media professionals. Almost all of those polled cited specialised science publications and researchers as the best sources of newsworthy information. However, over half of the journalists also described these sources as difficult to understand. Given the difficulty experienced by many journalists in understanding researchers, one of the findings of the main Eurobarometer came as quite a surprise to many at the Forum. Asked, 'Do you prefer that science information is presented to you by journalists or scientists?' 52% picked scientists, while just 14% voted for journalists. Those who opted for scientists did so because they thought the information would be more trustworthy and precise. As for the researchers themselves, a majority understand the importance of explaining their work to society. However, they lack support for such activities. 'There is a skills gap whereby scientists find it difficult to find the right language to communicate to the wider audiences, as well as understanding which stories are relevant and useable by the media,' the report reads. 'Meanwhile journalists are unable to use science stories that are overloaded with complex information which is not interesting, verifiable or easily translatable into story format.' The good news is that things are changing; a new guide to science journalism training issued by the European Commission reveals a wide variety of educational programmes of different lengths across Europe. The Commission also emphasised the fact that many funding contracts under the Seventh Framework Programme require scientists to engage in communication activities.

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