Guest Post: Science is NOT a Marketing Opportunity

The kind of generic 'science' picture used by lazy hacks who only read the title of an article

One of the disadvantages of doing scientific research is that you spend and awful lot of time producing not very much, and even then you’ll be met with total indifference from anyone but the tiny band of people working on similar stuff. Frankly, it’s enough to make you to jack it in for a glamorous career in public relations. Still, in recent years, a new career has blossomed that combines both PR and scientific research – and all it will cost you is your principles. Oh, and any respect and credibility you enjoyed from your peers – but what do they matter in PR?

You won’t have failed to notice that increasingly, coverage of science in the media has been reduced to some lazy pillock promoting a formula to determining the most depressing day of the year, or the like. Unlike the grains of knowledge your work painstakingly hacked for the rock face of ignorance, this half-assed piece of invention is splashed all over the papers, radio and TV. So get in on the act -100 times the publicity with 1/100 of the work!It’s a simple process – find something you reckon the dish-clothed brained public care about, bang in some variables (it doesn’t matter what, no one cares), write some nonsense about how important it all is and fire it off to every damn journalist type you know.

You know it’s a pile of junk, they’ll know it’s a pile of junk. You don’t care, they won’t care. It gives them a chance to tick the ‘science’ box without any work, allowing more to be spent on printing Diana conspiracies, daytime radio-phone ins featuring the delusional ranting of people without jobs or celebrity-focussed topical news on TV.

Interested? Here is a proven formula to make your own news-friendly formula for the finding which day of the year is the Xiest:

Mi = ((I × T) × 2(Px × D)) + Pr
                 B

Where:

  • Mi = amount of media interest
  • I = Interest of subject to public*
  • T = How topical the subject is
  • Px = Proximity to the day (no one will care if your date is 8 months off)
  • D = Dearth of any other interesting stories about today
  • Pr = How good you are at writing an enticing press release
  • B = how bored everyone is of this type of filler

*guide values
0 – best day for investing in stamps
5 – snowiest day of the year
20 – most sexually thrilling day of the year
50 – most effective day to start a diet

Despite the appearances, I’m not a bitter researcher in any field, but I do strongly believe that it is important that the populace have an understanding of what science is. I don’t mean the finer details, but the process by which it works. This would, for example, give people the facility to judge the allegations about the MMR vaccine and autism clearly and rationally. PR-driven sci-fluff is a cop out – nothing more than lip service, and mutual blessed-out ignorance between the media and consumer. That’s true of so much of course, but no one was ever blinded when they couldn’t follow the latest twist in Jordan’s marriage.

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  1. Todd Jordan on 2009-04-01 at 21:20

    Definitely this happens. For every scary or fluff science article that is published, thousands of truly significant ones won’t be.

    That’s the nature of the news. Celebrity over real people. Fluff over fact.



  2. Chao Kang Tai on 2009-04-02 at 13:52

    The main problem is the majority of interesting and contributing investigation is uncompromisable for the general public. If you want to involve them into science research, there are two viable options.

    First option is to educate your public, which has the added advantage (or disadvantage, depends on your view on the matter) of the public wanting to be able to decide the course of investigation. This however takes time, and for most people more intelligence then they have.

    The second option is to just publish the simplest of investigation, giving the public the idea that their money is well spend and announce true innovations in specialized magazines. If you truly are interested in science you can go there. If you aren’t, you won’t have to. Let the public have the sensation of their own choice.



  3. scuff on 2009-04-03 at 12:38

    I don’t think we’ll ever get over the news having a fluff element within it, and in some ways I wouldn’t mind if it were all fluff and nonsense. At least they’d be being honest about it, rather than the dishonest coverage of science now, which is largely driven by PR companies
    Chao – option 2 is what we currently have I think. Detail in the journals, simple overviews in the popular (science) press – New Scientist etc. It’s the going that one step further that proves so tricky. The science in the mainstream proper is rarely inspiring, and often not even science in any meaningful sense