Disseminating Science News

(With reference to outlook of scientists and journalists)

Dr. Anuradha Mishra Gaur*

Science has touched the life of every individual in one way or the other. It is inseparable from the basic necessities of human life. According to the former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam :

“Science touches every person in every walk of life – be it rural or urban. When you visit a doctor with absolute faith that he will find a cure for every illness and you see science in action. When your harvest is bountiful and you are able to have greater productivity than your forefather had on the same piece of land, you see science in action. When natural disasters occur and your life is saved by pre-emptive action due to forecasting, you see science in action. When you talk to your son and daughter anywhere on plane from your cell phone or the STD booth, or through voice over inter protocol you see science in action.”

This great thought of the former President is self explanatory in supporting the relevance of science for a common man. Former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had also taken initiative to promote science through five year plans. Promoting science through five year plans will not serve any purpose if people are not able to get sufficient scientific information. India is one of the developing countries of the world; therefore, it is difficult to provide high quality scientific information to common man. However, basic scientific information must reach common people. For this there should be proper flow of scientific information at all levels. Media can play significant role in the flow of scientific information. Science is one of the beats in journalism which is covered by media. This paper shall focus on the flow of scientific information in newspapers.

The emergence of science journalism (Patairiya, 2005) in India began with the publication of a scientific journal, “Asiatick Researches”, which was a quarterly from the Asiatick Society, Calcutta in 1788. Thereafter, science journalism in India has evolved in many facets. There has been a continuous development in the evolution of science institutions and publication of scientific literature. Subsequently, science publications also started appearing in regional Indian languages by the end of 18th century.  Some articles were published in a monthly journal “Digdarshan” from Srirampur (Hooghly), West Bengal in April 1888 in Hindi, Bengali and English. These articles dealt with topics like “flying in a balloon and steamboat” etc. Science journalism could not develop sufficiently during 19th century. Science communication was mainly limited to publication of books and scientific journals, except a few popular science articles on latest developments.  A number of publications were brought out in different Indian languages and on various scientific subjects. In 20th century attempts were made to spread the knowledge of science to common people. For example, “Vigyan” (Science) – a monthly popular science magazine in Hindi–was started by Vigyan Parishad (a society of scientists and academics) in 1915. The first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, introduced the concept of modern ‘scientific temper’, a phrase taken to mean an enquiring attitude and analytical approach that leads to rational thinking and the pursuit of truth without prejudice. Accordingly, the Constitution of India has made it a fundamental duty of every citizen under Article 51A (h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry. Many noted journalists have also contributed to the growth of science journalism in India. Gobind Behari Lal went to the United States and established himself as a science correspondent. In 1937, he won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for his contributions to science journalism. Subsequently, Amalendu Dasgupta, Harish Aggarwal, W.S. Titus, T.P. Prabhu, etc. wrote on scientific developments in the country. Dr. K.S. Jayaraman, Anil Agarwal and Dr. R. Ramachandran also contributed as exclusive science correspondents for the growth of science awareness in the country.

After Independence India witnessed a rapid growth in science journalism. With a view to integrate, coordinate, catalyze and support the efforts of science journalism and science popularization in the country, the government of India (Patairiya, 2005) established the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) in 1982. In early 20th century, scientific and industrial exhibitions, seminars, industrial and technological museums, public lectures and popular science magazines, etc. were some of the newer developments in science journalism. But the pace of these activities remained low and no significant effort was made to popularize science among the people and inculcate a scientific temper amongst them. Some programmes and activities were started in public and private sectors to spread scientific knowledge and scientific outlook among the masses. Some vernaculars newspapers included science journalism, but science journalism in its real form could not evolve and remained an inner page affair for the media. Except on few occasions, such as Apollo Expedition (1969), Total Solar Eclipse (1995), Ganesh Drinking Milk (1995), Nuclear Tests (1998) etc. hardly any special coverage was given to science or scientific events.

Till date there has been no significant development in science journalism in India. The scientific information gets media attention usually on the occasion of some big events and happening. The present paper attempts to observe and analyze the coverage science gets through certain newspapers. This will help us to know the extent of flow of scientific information in newspaper. This study is confined to three broad objectives that are: First, to identify different categories of science stories covered in three main newspapers of Rajasthan i.e. Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhasker. This will help us to determine the flow of scientific information in three selected newspapers. Second, the study attempts to compare the flow of scientific information in Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Navjyoti, Dainik Bhasker , The Hindustan Times and The Times of India. Third, an attempt is made to know the viewpoint of scientists and journalists about the flow of scientific information in newspapers.

Methodology

This study examines Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhaskar newspapers. The science stories were divided into three groups: Advertisement, Pictorial and News. These groups were further divided into various categories of science stories. Broadly, the research found 13 categories of science stories. They were compared in terms of six variables, namely: frequency, placement, space, page number, main page and supplement taken for study. These variables are explained as follows:

  • Main or supplement newspaper-The three newspapers are divided into the main newspaper and its supplement.
  • Page number- The newspapers were studied from the first to the last page.
  • Placement of news -It is done on the basis of division of  a page  of newspaper into seven parts, that is upper left, upper right, middle left, middle right, bottom left, bottom right and full page.
  • Space-The measurement in centimetre square.

The perspective of scientists and journalists is gathered through structured questionnaire and interview. The sample consisted of 25 journalists and 25 scientists.

Findings

The comparison between newspapers is explained with the help of two tables. Table1 shows a comparison of 13 categories of scientific stories in terms of frequency, placement and space in Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhaskar. Table 2 indicates comparison of 13 categories of science stories in terms of page number, main newspaper and supplement. The data of these tables is not absolute data. It is relative data calculated by counting frequency, space, and occurrence of news in main newspaper and supplement of three newspapers as 100.  The number and placement of science news is shown in numbers. Comparing 13 categories in Rajasthan Patrika, Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhaskar in terms of six variables we found that:

  1. In the category of Health, Rajasthan Patrika performed better than the other two newspapers in terms of frequency, placement, space, page, main newspaper and supplement. Performance of Rajasthan Patrika was followed by Dainik Bhasker and Dainik Navjyoti respectively.
  2. In the category of Technology, Dainik Bhasker provided the maximum frequency and space in the main newspaper followed by Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker. Whereas the best placement, page number and scientific information in the newspaper supplement was in Rajasthan Patrika followed by Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhasker.
  3. In the category of Veterinary, Rajasthan Patrika performed better on the parameters of placement, page, and supplement newspaper. It was followed by Dainik Bhasker and Dainik Navjyoti. On the other two parameters, i.e. space and main newspaper, Dainik Navjyoti performed better than the other two newspapers. On the parameter of frequency Rajasthan Patrika was better than Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhasker.

Table 1: The table shows a comparison of various categories of science stories in terms of frequency, placement and space.

Note: It is not absolute data. It is relative data calculated by counting the frequency and space of the three newspapers as 100.

  1. In the category of environment, on three parameters i.e. placement, page and main newspaper, Dainik Navjyoti performed better as compared to Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker. On the other two parameters, i.e. frequency and space, Rajasthan Patrika performed better than Dainik Navjyoti and Dainik Bhasker. Whereas on the parameter of page, Dainik Navjyoti was comparatively better than the other two newspapers.

Table 2: The table shows a comparison of various categories in terms of page number, main newspapers and supplement newspapers.

Note: It is not absolute data. It is relative data calculated by counting main newspaper and supplement newspaper of the three newspapers as 100.

  1. In the category of General Science, Dainik Navjyoti performed better than Rajasthan Patrika and Dinik Bhasker on the parameters of frequency, placement, page, main newspaper and space. In newspaper supplements, Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker were equal and better than Dainik Navjyoti.
  2. In the category of Medical, Dainik Bhasker performed better than Dainik Navjyoti and Rajasthan Patrika on the parameters of frequency, placement, and main newspaper. Whereas on the parameters of space and supplement newspaper again Dainik Bhasker performed better but the next best newspaper on these parameters are Rajasthan Patrika followed by Dainik Navjyoti.
  3. In the category of Meteorology, it is found that Dainik Bhasker performed better as compared to other two newspapers on the parameters of frequency, placement, space and page. On the parameter of main newspaper, Dainik Navjyoti performed better than the other two newspapers. In supplement newspaper, Dainik Bhasker was better than Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Navjyoti.
  4. In the category of Astronomy, it was found that Dainik Bhasker performed better than Dainik Navjyoti and Rajasthan Patrika on the parameters of frequency, placement, space and page. On the parameter of main newspaper, Dainik Navjyoti performed better than Dainik Bhasker and Rajasthan Patrika. In supplement newspaper, Dainik Bhasker was best amongst all the three newspapers.
  5. In the category of Agriculture, it was found that Dainik Navjyoti was better than Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker on the parameter of frequency and space. In the parameter of placement and page it was found that Dainik Bhasker performed better whereas Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Navjyoti are equal in both the parameters. In supplement newspaper, Dainik Bhasker performed better than other two newspapers.
  6. In the category of Genetics only Rajasthan Patrika provided scientific information in supplement newspaper whereas on the parameters of frequency, placement, space, page and main newspaper Dainik Navjyoti performed better than Rajasthan Patrika.
  7. In the category of Zoology, Dainik Navjyoti performed better than Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker on the parameters of frequency, placement,, space,, page and supplement newspaper. Whereas in main newspaper all the three newspapers are equal with 33.33 percent.
  8. In the category of Microbiology, both Dainik Navjyoti and Rajasthan Patrika performed equal on the parameters of frequency and placement. Whereas on the parameter of space, main newspaper and supplement newspaper Dainik Navjyoti performed better. On the parameter of supplement and main newspaper, there are no scientific stories in the other two newspapers.
  9. In the category of Biotechnology, it is found that on the parameters of frequency, placement, page, and main newspaper Dainik Navjyoti performed better than Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Bhasker respectively. On the parameter of space, Rajasthan Patrika provided maximum space as compared to the other two newspapers.

However, an overall assessment of data indicates that all the three newspapers covered very limited number of scientific stories. The frequency of science stories in all the newspapers was also limited. It is found that the frequent stories were from the category of medical, general science, technology and health. Whereas categories like genetics, zoology, microbiology and biotechnology received less coverage. Dainik Navjyoti covered old and outdated stories on science as compared to Rajasthan Patrika and Dainik Navjyoti. The content of these science stories covered the local health problems, celebrating prayavaran diwas, and health related incidents. The science stories covered were very general. Rajasthan Patrika gave more space to science stories in the form of ads, pictures and news. Among the there newspapers, maximum space for science stories was given by Rajasthan Patrika  with 3.58 per cent, followed by Dainik Bhasker with 3.44 per cent  and Dainik Navjyoti with 3.05 per cent.

Comparing this situation with national nespapers, The Times of India and Hindustan Times in terms of space given to science stories (Table.3) it was found that on an average these two newspaprs gave 0.88% and 0.43% space respectively to science news. The Times of India gives more coverage to science news as compared to Hindustan Times.  But the space given to science stories is less. Secondly, there is a marginal difference between the two newspapers in terms of space given to science stories. These facts indicate that both in urban and rural areas the flow of scientific information is very less.

Table.3: The table shows the comparison on the basis of percentage of area covered by science news in the two newspapers.

This study reveals that for journalists the major source of information for covering scientific information are science journals, personal contact with scientists, international organizations, news agencies, government organizations and NGOs. Journalists were of the opinion that the contemporary issues of science are environment, medicine, health, nanotechnologies, new materials, information & communication technologies, space, society, energy, transport and industrial technology etc. They indicated that they look for stories which contain public interest, connect readers, usefulness and novelty. Apart from this it should be topical and make sense. It should have a human angle. If there is controversy and interesting angle then it will get good coverage and regular follow-up. In fact, anything related to burning issues like climate change, energy crisis and sometimes pure science gets immediate attention for the coverage. Journalists also face a lack of coordination between them and scientists. They believe that there is a problem from both sides. There is a need to open up communication channels between scientists and journalists. When some science institute completes some research work it should hold press conference and invite journalists to interact with scientists. There should be sitting sessions where they both interact and learn about the limitations of each other. Journalists are of the opinion that research labs and universities should have better PR cells. It is also found that journalists are not scientifically inclined and do not understand many scientific issues. Journalists have also complained that scientists announce breaking news type of stories even before peer review of their research. This can mislead readers and can cause confusion. A journalist has to guard against sensationalism and scientists needed to demystify scientific jargon for the reader and give wider picture. Journalists should improve the way of coverage of science stories. They must be more accurate. Scientists need to be proactive and forthcoming in sharing their research findings. Scientists should be able to explain their research findings in a language a common man can understand. Apart from this there should be more courses on science journalism so that a scientist feels comfortable interacting with journalists who are trained. Actually there is a need for training both the journalists and scientists. In their response, some journalists also acknowledge that most of them do not acquire training in science journalism. Due to inadequate knowledge in understanding the real core issues and writing skill, journalists are unable to comprehend the findings well enough for common man to understand. Moreover, there is a need to change the attitude of journalists towards local scientists. Journalists have a tendency to ignore local scientists. This is not good because scientists coming from grass roots may be very helpful in explaining wide applications of the new technology. Journalists also pointed out that scientists do not provide appropriate information to them.  Large numbers of scientists want to publish their research studies in international journals before sharing it with the local media. There is also a need to put a check on confusing and contradictory stories published in newspapers. One day you are told that chocolate and wine are good for you; another day, another study says that they are very bad for you. Reports should include the context and sampling so that the reader is not confused.

On the issue of improvement of science journalism, journalists were of the opinion that science should be made popular. More space to science stories should be given in newspapers. Science stories should be spread throughout the newspaper. There should be openness and more communication between journalist and scientists. A conscious decision on the part of media house to display science stories will put science stories at par with other beat such as civic affairs and politics. India’s science blogging community is stronger than its more mainstream science communication units. Blogs should be integrated better. Scientific writing should have general significance. It should be written in simple style with great clarity. Science stories must be told very simply; must avoid the jargon. Science must be unravelled and explained like an interesting story to the readers which can be done by promoting some courses for graduate and undergraduate on science writing. Journalists should be trained in science journalism through fellowships. More people with science background must be brought in journalism and given relevant workshops and training.

Scientists consider The Hindu as the best newspaper, followed by The Times of India and The Hindustan times. Among the magazines the best coverage of science is by Science Reporter, Electronics for You, Sanctuary India and Popular Science -India. Scientists believe that journalists should interact with scientists directly as and when they come across the reporting of any discovery or breakthrough in science. By interaction in seminars and by laboratory visits they can maintain good understanding of science issues. More science oriented workshops / exhibitions may be arranged where journalists and scientists can come together to discuss science topics in a better fashion. Journalists can suggest some new situations based research and scientists can work with them on new topics. In this way, some dedicated or focussed areas of science will be highlighted. To have better science journalists it is essential to encourage science at the school level through science exhibitions and media coverage. If newspaper editors take more interest in publishing science news then they must see originality in research, especially basic research work. The journalist should be conversant with science and technology of the day and report accordingly, rather than going after flashy headlines. Journalists should give ample time and respect to scientists because scientists are the ones who know most precisely about what they are talking. Journalists have to keep themselves updated about the latest activities or research taking place in science. On the other hand, the scientist has to explain his work to journalist in a simplified manner. This will help in appealing to the masses and can be understood by all. For better interaction there should be regular meetings between these two.

According to the scientists, better flow in science communication is possible by inculcating science in young minds. It should start from the school level. Subjects such as technical communication may be taught at the graduation level so that budding journalists may learn the writing skills in science. There should be promotion of training at school and college level. Display of scientific contents in the schools lectures should be promoted. Those who are popularising science in school and colleges must be given attention and appreciation. Media should also provide ample space for science stories through exclusive Indian websites, TV programmes, magazines and novels etc. Innovative ideas and inventions that affect the life of the common man must be promoted. Ideas must be shared with different national and international magazines. Original discoveries should be published in reputed journals. On entertainment channles, specific slots for science related activities can be promoted for general audience. Small articles from scientists in Hindi/ English/ local languages should be invited by newspapers and magazines.

Scientist claimed that journalists ignore local scientists, tamper with their research findings; do not consider science an interesting beat to cover. On the other hand, journalists claimed that scientists do not want to share their work and they do not explain science in simple terms. All these problems can be solved by changing attitude of journalist and editors towards scientists. Scientist should feel free to communicate with them. There should not be any communication gap between them.

Conclusion and suggestions

The flow of scientific information should reach the grass root level. To make it possible there should be better standard of science news. This is possible if editors ensure well researched and authentic science news. It must cover all those elements which satisfy the common man. The editor should encourage reporters to cover the human element of science stories. Until and unless people are not connected with the story the story has no relevance. Apart from the quality of science news, more space should be given to science. It is not essential to have an exclusive page on science but it should be adequately covered with proper follow-up. Editors should make more attempts to write editorials on emerging issues. Another area which must be dealt with is conflict between scientists and journalists. Several issues connected with scientists and journalists have emerged. The problems between them can be sorted out through mutual trust, understanding, transparency and frequent interaction.

The content and quality of science stories should be upgraded. Flow of scientific information must be based on the needs of urban and rural people. A serious approach towards the coverage of science stories should be followed. The views of journalists and scientists on the issue of their conflict must be timely dealt with. Various suggestions made by them in this study may help in improving the standard of science news.

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