Failure to communicate

I attended a seminar on the chilling effects of libel this evening, hosted by the Science Gallery in TCD.

Simon Singh spoke about his successful fight against the British Chiropractic Association, and Peter Wilmshurst spoke of his ongoing battle with NMT Medical, a US medical devices maker. Two lawyers also addressed the gathering.

After a short break, a question and answer session followed.

One contributor asked what could be done to stop another Wakefield?

Simon Singh spoke about the need for reporters on specialist beats, since much of the hysteria began when it moved from being a science story to one covered by general news reporters.

That’s true, but it’s only half the story.

The other half is, most scientists are awful communicators. Reporters – even science reporters – are generalists. We report what we’re told. If there’s a controversy, we tell both sides until the dust clears.

We’re not always able to spot the spoofers, and when scientists talk in acronym laden jargon, we don’t understand it, so we’re not going to write it and confuse our readers.

Journalists are lazy and stupid. We need things spelled out in simple language. Remember that, next time you talk to us.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.