I'm not famous enough of a scientist to be frequently solicited by the media* (plus my field has little political/social controversy around it), but I had a few encounters with local newspapers and one with a public national television. The results were not entirely bad, but the general sentiment given was significantly different than what I would have wanted it to be.
It seems like I'm not alone, I just got back from a conference in my field where more senior scientists discussed their relationship with the general media. It came out that more often than they would like, the relationship was bad.
Problems stated, among others†:
- Misquotation, or words taken out of their context significantly changing their meaning (this is the most frequent).
- A general difficulty for the media to understand, and convey, uncertainty ('we think, it might be so..' or 'we are rather confident that ...' becomes 'it is so')
- Difficulty to apprehend results, applications, consequences that may or may not appear 10-20 years down the line.
- Exaggeration of the conclusions
These are not without consequences, at the personal level, as it can give the impression that you don't know what you are talking about.
My first thought was to ignore the media attention and advocate that scientists should do the communication themselves to bypass the regular media (having a blog, entertaining a profile on social media, etc.), but it is extremely time consuming and would distract from the actual research work. I think there must be something to do, on our side, to help with that.
I understand that it is due to how media works, and I don't believe it will change by a lot. But the question is then: are there any strategies that would help reducing this effect, at least to protect oneself against the consequences?
*newspapers, television, magazines, etc. i.e. not scientific journals.
†anyone who has items to add to this list is welcome to do so.