Question for the academic types–interview requests

| 19 Comments

As y’all know, a frequent topic of conversation here is communicating science to the public. While many of us do it directly via sites such as this one, the bulk of science writing that the public will read is done by the pros–people writing for the magazines and newspapers, among other outlets. Often, their stories include interviews with research scientists. However, we’re not always so easy to get in touch with, and we blow reporters off altogether–apparently, pretty frequently.

On a listserv I subscribe to, there recently was a discussion amongst writers regarding how to get academics (and business-types; don’t feel the question is limited *only* to academics) to respond to interview requests. However, given the wording of the question and some of the responses, I think the question itself highlighted a bit of the gulf between journalists and academics, so I’m putting some of my own thoughts on why academics don’t respond first at Aetiology (and particularly when they are at conferences or on business travel, which was the topic of one comment), and I welcome any suggestions you have on how you prefer to be contacted–and what might improve response rates for writers. (It would be great if any writers out there added their additional comments as well–imagine, a dialogue!…)

19 Comments

On a slightly off-topic note, on the 4/13 broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday, a panel of scientists was interviewed about the dino protein discovery. One panelist went so far into jargon that Ira Flatow, the host, had to stop him and ask him to put it in layman’s terms. The panelist could not. In fact, it was as if Flatow’s request had caught him in the headlights. It was painful to listen to.

It was a textbook example of the kind of people who should not be presenting science to the public. Or it could a lesson that before you try to present it to the general public, create a public-friendly version of the discovery.

Gee, it appears as though evolutionists are having such difficulty with public relations these days. Could perhaps one of the reasons they blow off reporters is because the Apostles of Darwin can scarcely express a coherent thought to a direct question and hence can’t express themselves in any media other than their own one-sided propaganda? (I will always remember Dicky Dawkins 11-second pause when asked how evolution accounts for new information in the genome!) I seems like other evolutionists don’t want to be humiliated like Pope Dicky!

The LongBoy vomited:

“Could perhaps one of the reasons they blow off reporters is because the Apostles of Darwin can scarcely express a coherent thought to a direct question and hence can’t express themselves in any media other than their own one-sided propaganda?”

Ken Miller and Kevin Padian didn’t seem to have much trouble handling the questions put to them by the creationists in the Kitzmiller trial.

One of the things that I would like to have before I agree to an interview is at least the promise of an opportunity to review the piece before it is published. Of course journalists should not give up their artistic license, but many misunderstandings could be easily avoided if this practice were followed.

For example, I was once interviewed by a local newspaper regarding the Bush decision on stem cell research. What I actually said was that the decision was outstandingly wishy-washy. The article that appeared said that I praised the decision!

When technical issues are involved it can be easy for misunderstandings to creep in. Some form of feedback might help.

Why do you guys waste so much time talking to each other here and niggling with creationists and why don’t you spend more time talking to the public? I am not a biologist and often I can’t tell what you are talking about. There is room for a good “coffee table” type of book on modern evolutionary ideas and examples. If it contained good pictures, a summary of the data types (fossils, comparisons of species, genes, etc.) and some fresh examples like dinosaurs-birds, a review of the modern evolutionary ideas and the link with other sciences, like physics and chemistry, it would be dynamite and would draw in the general public who can’t wade through words like phylogeny. Why doesn’t somebody work with a good science writer to produce this? We have about 50% of the public who thinks “Darwin” is all wet. The only popular writer was Steven Jay Gould, and even his work sometimes required a lot of patience to read (by a scientifically trained non-biologist).

Veritas:

The Evolution of Life, Gamlin & Vines Evolution, Carl Zimmer The Book of Life, S. J. Gould (it is a coffee-table book)

Also: Ewewitness series “Evolution” (yes, it’s for kids, but it’s really good.) Carroll & Stearns, Evolution (textbook, but very readable).

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The Dawkins 11 second joke is the usual creationists tactic…he has answered the questions many times…

The problem is people like The Long Boy don’t really understand genetics so they just dismiss genetic explanations as wrong.

http://www.skeptics.com.au/articles/dawkins.htm

Personally, my favorite method of being interviewed for print media is for them to send me their questions via e-mail and allow me to send responses back to them. Of course, it is rare that they will do this. Instead, they frequently call about some random topic I know little about and expect me to dispense some great wisdom off the top of my head. I fell for that once and will never do it again.

“Apostles of Darwin”?????? If you stop believing in religion.…it goes away If you stop believing in Darwin or evolution.…..they do not

I have been so badly misquoted by interviewers that I rarely ever bother with them anymore. At excavations there are occassionaly a reporter, or even the rare TV truck. As a consequence I have a practice of carrying several different business cards with different job titles ranging from “excavation assistant” to “project director.” They are all correct in once sense or another, and I use which ever seems the most appropriate at the time.

Even the TV news is heavily edited, and you can be very surprised at what you supposedly have said.

I usually don’t have time, but will make it if I can. Worse, I have been badly misquoted and misunderstood by reporters who are not familiar with the topic at hand. I regularly read news summaries that misrepresent the views of people with whom I am good friends. Journalists routinely sensationalize stories, seemingly attempting to stir up controversy. This sort of thing can generate trouble from colleagues who read the reporter’s screw-up or mis-representation, making some of my colleagues quite skittish.

One other thing.…out of curiosity, what exactly is “The Long Boy” referring to in his name? Would it be the tedium of inanity, or is he proverbially trying to compensate for something?

Veritas36:

I recommend Sean Carrol’s recent book Making of the Fittest as a good place to start.

Much of the discussion on this site is technical, because we have a great understanding of evolutionary biology. Biologists understand most of the information in this area that has been amassed over the past 150 years, and when we are talking to each other, we can assume that other biologists share much of the common knowledge in genetics, phylogeny (that word, again!), anatomy, and developmental biology. I’ll stop with that list of subspecialities, but really every aspect of biology impinges on evolution (and vice versa).

It is not always easy to distinguish trolls from intellectually honest commenters who make ambiguous remarks, so if you truly want information, simply say that you don’t understand something and ask for clarification.

Most biologists will try to explain things in a less technical fashion or point you to appropriate references.

The Long Boy said

I will always remember…

Well, what I will always remember is presenting a prepared written statement to the subcommittee of the Louisiana legislature and then having the Associated Press in its national release use my name attached to the other side’s statement. And when I called the AP to complain, I was told that they didn’t care whether they got it right and they never bother to correct something so trivial as getting proponents and opponents backwards.

I am happy to give interviews to the media about my specialty (computing), and I usually consider myself lucky if the eventual article is 51% correct, that is, if there are at least as many correct statements as there are incorrect ones. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is. Op ed pieces are much better because you get to write your text. One cannot expect journalists to be any more literate or educated than the general populace.

some fundie ahole Wrote:

Gee, it appears as though evolutionists […]

It’s amazing how much you can know about someone just from their first six words.

Why do you guys waste so much time talking to each other here and niggling with creationists and why don’t you spend more time talking to the public?

Why do you waste so much time not going to the library or book store to discover that what you’re asking for already exists?

(I will always remember Dicky Dawkins 11-second pause when asked how evolution accounts for new information in the genome!)

Neither will we.

And because I have no confidence of you actually reading anything at that link, I’ll excerpt it here.

In September 1997, I allowed an Australian film crew into my house in Oxford without realising that their purpose was creationist propaganda. In the course of a suspiciously amateurish interview, they issued a truculent challenge to me to “give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome.” It is the kind of question only a creationist would ask in that way, and it was at this point I tumbled to the fact that I had been duped into granting an interview to creationists - a thing I normally don’t do, for good reasons.

[…]

My generosity was rewarded in a fashion that anyone familiar with fundamentalist tactics might have predicted. When I eventually saw the film a year later 1, I found that it had been edited to give the false impression that I was incapable of answering the question about information content 2. In fairness, this may not have been quite as intentionally deceitful as it sounds. You have to understand that these people really believe that their question cannot be answered! Pathetic as it sounds, their entire journey from Australia seems to have been a quest to film an evolutionist failing to answer it.

Re “their entire journey from Australia seems to have been a quest to film an evolutionist failing to answer it.”

As if somebody not having the answer on the tip of their tongue would mean the question hadn’t been answered. Answers to technical questions do sometimes require thinking, and sometimes even research.

Henry

Long Boy asked…

Could perhaps one of the reasons they blow off reporters is because the Apostles of Darwin can scarcely express a coherent thought to a direct question

Um, No.

It’s because they have actual jobs to do, since most of them work in fields where evolution is not only accepted, but actually used as an everyday tool.

The get tired of taking time out of their day to patiently explain, yet again, that yes, the earth really is round.

and hence can’t express themselves in any media other than their own one-sided propaganda?

Well, you’re allowed in places like this, which is kinda odd for “one sided propaganda”.

Anyway, got a question? Go ahead and ask.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on June 15, 2007 8:15 AM.

So Much Junk in the Genome… and the Press was the previous entry in this blog.

Luskin Once Again Gets The Law Wrong is the next entry in this blog.

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