The state of science reporting in our media

The quality of science reporting in newspapers, if it exists at all, is abysmal. Some might even add the quality of any section in most newspapers is abysmal. Probably this has more to do with the quality of training of journalists than the ability or willingness of papers to find spaces in science section. Since public sympathy (still) is on the side of sciences, newspapers seems obliged to find space for science.

I find the lack of appetite for sciences in general public equally troubling. And the kind of half-hearted reporting it encourages. 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 gadgets faster and efficient. Or how better understanding of ‘calcium signaling’ in cells help making better medicines.

Science reportage in India mostly focus on successfully Indian scientists working abroad. There seems to be a pattern, almost an obsession, for newspapers to have headlines like “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 usually are about some Indian who is doing something in US and Europe. What they do, I believe, is of very high quality and very important for their host country in particular and for science and technology in general. And given the conditions here, it is likely that one can do such things only in EU and US. If anything, it makes work done by our scientists 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. 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 come to believe that main problem besetting our research and teaching community is more of morals 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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