Christmas for Scientists

Nobel Banquet 2016.  © Nobel Media AB 2016, photo: Dan Lepp

(Mood: Starstruck)

Today is christmas for scientists. Nobel Day.

I was going to write a post about the circus around the prize. How, as a science journalist, I once a year eagerly await the press conferences announcing the prizes. Then try to find a scientist who works in the same field to interview. Preferably right away, followed by typing up an article that can be published the same day. It’s fast, it’s fun and for once, “good enough” is perfectly fine.

Once I have caught my breath from breaking news reporting I can start the next project: getting an interview with the Nobel Laureates. Everything from getting through to them, or even to their press officers, to the actual meeting is an adrenalin rush. I have experienced that quite a few times during the past years and again – it’s fun, and the personal challenge to myself is to think of a question which has not yet been asked.

While deciding which anecdotes of “Natalie meets the Laureates” I should tell you, something else happened. Media researcher Hillevi Ganetz has studied the broadcast of the banquet since 1976 and has come to the conclusion that the reporters who are present to interview the scientists hardly ask any critical questions. She points out that the role of media is to criticallly evaluate society and power, and science should be a part of that. After all much of the scientific work is funded by taxpayers money.

This made me think.

First of all, I was going to walk right into that trap. Writing a blog post about glitter and glamour, about how I get starstruck by these superstars of science and how I find a way to be a professional journalist instead of a groupie, so that I can still do a good interview and ask good questions.

Second of all, I both agree and disagree with Hillevi Ganetz. One of my mantras is that we need more critical science journalism. Scandals in the research world during the past years have shown that apart from getting the public interested in science (let’s call this approach “yay science”) and reporting very positively about recent scientific progress (“scientists have found”) we also need to be more critical. That study done on mice, can the results really be translated to curing cancer or Alzheimers disease? Is a healthy microbiome really the answer to everything? How does funding, publishing, the whole world of science work? There is lot to be critical evaluated and while I think “yay science” and “scientists have found” are important I also think that scientist journalists should also be more critical and dare to be uncomfortable. I would like to see more of that kind of work.

But maybe I would like to see that kind of reporting on the 364 other days of the year. Let the Nobel Day and the Nobel Banquet be Christmas for scientists, with all its glamour and glitter. Let science, and especially the Laureates, shine for one day and night and for us who are not at the banquet, let’s enjoy the show on TV and during the events during the Nobel Week. After that, there is plenty of time for critical questions.

Would you like to listen to one of my interviews with a Nobel Laureate? I have talked to May-Britt Moser for the podcast of Curie about creativity when she visited the Nobel Museum some time after receiving the prize. That time we talked about creativity, how to reach out to a wider public and why that is important. Only the beginning, a tiny part in the middle and end is in Swedish, otherwise we talk English.

Guestblogger Natalie von der Lehr is a freelance science writer, podcast producer and coach for the KI-blog team.

One thought on “Christmas for Scientists

  1. I think you made a great point Natalie. Science journalists should really be more critical. I think this would also help the general public to better understand how important it is to critically evaluate scientific findings.

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