The state of science reporting in our media

Barring few publications, the quality of science section in our newspapers, given that it exists, is abysmal. Some might even add the quality of any section in most newspapers is abysmal. Probably this has to do more with the quality of the training of journalists than the ability or willingness of papers to find spaces in science section. Since the public sympathy is on the side of science and newspapers — who seems to be for the educated class and by the educated class –, newspapers are somewhat obliged to find space for science in its pages.

What I find more disturbing than this lack of appetite for science is the kind of science reporting is being encouraged by readers. First, we don’t expect a common reader to appreciate the significance of basic research. Without proper initiation, they won’t understand how improvements made in graph theory or Boolean function optimization will make their communication more reliable and their digital electronics faster and efficient. Or how better understanding of ‘calcium signaling’ in cells help making better medicines.

In the past I used to think, after a fashion, that a poor country like ours should not invest much in pure research. Later I noticed that how money invested in semiconductor research some 80 years ago by a country far far away have replaced the kerosene lamps in my village by rechargeable LED bulbs. Even though electricity supply is still as bad as it used to be, the house are lit for much longer and much better. This is something we need to remind ourselves again and again.

I don’t understand — actually I do but don’t want to shout it out — our narcissist obsession with “Indian born scientist who did A and B in US/Europe” over “a scientist who did A and B” in science. The most read stories in science section seems to be about some Indian guy who is doing something in US and Europe. What they do, I believe, must be fancy and very important both for their host country and science and technology in general. And given the conditions here and support of society and institutes there, it is most likely that one can do such things only in EU and US. Given that, it makes work done by our scientists is more worthy of our attention – even when we find it bit lacking. It is depressing to note that even the best of the work done our scientists at home were ignored. If you don’t trust me just check how much coverage was given to AKS primality test. This is one of the few examples I can think of. I often asked student who come from Delhi University if they have heard of Andre Beteille, and almost every-time they draw a blank.

Over the time, I have become more inclined to believe that main problem besetting our research and teaching community is more of morals and than of money. And if our media can improve the former a little, that would be a great deal of service to science in this country.

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Author: Dilawar

Graduate Student at National Center for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

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