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Science communication is not science journalism, and that is okay

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I get asked multiple times as to what is the difference between science communication and science journalism. Are they the same? Should they be the same? Why aren’t they the same? Here is my attempt at answering them based on my understanding and experience of being in this space for the last five years.

Science communication broadly covers any attempt that helps to spread scientific knowledge. A small sketch of a cell to a detailed 4000+ words (or even a book) about any scientific breakthrough or a concept qualifies here. It is more about information flowing to the public audience through any medium that is deemed fit. The key is to just state the information as it is, with the freedom to contextualise/simplify it. A science communicator can write, talk, dance or draw to put the science across. In most cases, it is their interpretation of the science that they want to communicate.

Some examples of science communication in India are below:

https://storyweaver.org.in/stories/111363-under-the-microscope

https://www.scirio.in/my-hands-are-shaking-do-i-have-parkinsons-disease/

https://researchmatters.in/sections/sciqs

Science journalism views any scientific breakthrough with a journalistic viewpoint. In a good journalistic piece, you identify a question that you would like to answer through the story. Is ‘a’ better than ‘b’? Why is something done the way it is? How is something done? Why aren’t we doing something? What does something mean? It tries to contextualise a scientific endeavour to the time and place we live in. Importantly, there are multiple sources that are gathered to answer the 5 questions of journalism — Who, what, why, when and how. Many wonderful science journalists (not science writers) stir up thoughts in people’s head with their story and help them think. They do not necessarily provide ready answers but present different viewpoints and perspectives from various sources. They validate their story angle with evidence from science.

Some examples of science journalism:

—- https://www.wired.com/story/farm-animals-are-the-next-big-antibiotic-resistance-threat/

—- https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6501/238

—- https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/faced-with-a-data-deluge-astronomers-turn-to-automation/

Science reporting is a middle ground. Unlike journalism, science reporting is stating of mere facts, mostly through text or audio in a typical newsroom setting. Science writers, who mostly report science, present what a particular study found, how it was done and what implications it has. They do not go into the depth of answering a question with their reports. Often, they also present a third-person view of the reported study. The content here comes when there is an event in science and it is restricted to this event. Very few science writers attempt at giving a broader context but are still reporting at the end of the day.

Some examples here:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/health/covid-19-vaccine-monkeys.html

—- https://www.theguardian.com/science/2020/aug/04/remains-of-10000-year-old-woolly-mammoth-pulled-from-siberian-lake

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaurs-suffered-cancer-too-180975467/



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