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Why we need arranged marriage of media and science

What happens when science meets journalism?

We will tell you what happens – silence. A quiet storm of suspicion and mistrust.

See, both sides have their own worldview of the other: that scientists are these quiet fellows that like to peer at truth down microscopes and magnifying lens and binoculars.

They know big words too. Big words like mitochondria, like aldibrontichronohontothologos, x equals MC squared, cell division, cell multiplication, cell subtractions etcetera.

Journalists, on the other hand, are a noisy crowd. They shout questions, they shove mics on your face, they ask maswali ya kishenzi, like what is mitochondria in Kiswahili? Is science supporting Kenya Kwanza or the opposition?

In our mind’s eye, while the scientist will probably be peering down at truth through a set of heavy lenses, the journalist will be peering at truth from behind a pair of dark shades or camera lens.

One side lives in planet Mars; the other lives in Jupiter’s larger than life realities. The wall between these two fields makes the Great Wall of China look like a collection of stones.

Still, if science does not understand journalism, then it shall remain a Martian subject whose precious works shall, in all probability, go up in flames like it did in the great fire that reduced the vast knowledge inside the University of Alexandria into a heap of ashes back in 48 BC.

And if journalism does not understand science, then it shall continue playing flower-girl to knowledge – trying its best to apply make-up on whatever part of science that it does not understand and hiding its ignorance behind a thin veil of verbosity.

Like we are doing right now.

To make science meaningful and impactful for the ordinary folks, someone must arrange a marriage between science and journalism; this, without trying to make scientists journalists; without trying to make journalists scientists.

While researchers are decidedly key opinion leaders in matters of science – especially matters relating to health, nutrition, and environment – the media plays an important role in forging and shaping public opinion.

It therefore follows that both the opinion leaders and opinion shapers need to work together in ensuring that research messages reach target audiences effectively and devoid of distortions.

There is a need to bring down communication walls – real or perceived – between the media and science: the perception among researchers that an entertainment-oriented media will distort scientific messages on one hand, and the perception that scientists are eccentric characters far removed from social realities. 

The level of public consumption of research in Kenya, and the concern that public opinion might turn against science, calls for a roundtable between researchers and the media.

This will not only improve the capacity of Kenyans to make rational public affairs decisions about science and to better integrate scientific knowledge to improve the quality of lives, but also help Kenyans live healthier and longer lives by promoting scientific awareness.

For many of us, science ceased to exist as soon as we were done studying mitochondria and potassium permanganate and aldibrontichronohontothologos back in high school in those long, dreary afternoon double-lessons.

But the truth is, that we are living in a scientific world – what we like to call a ‘technological world.’ We need science to assess complex public affairs choices; we need science to help citizens and public officials better understand the connection between investment in science research and our economic future.

We need a marriage between science and journalism to make Kenyans understand why we need more public investment in science to foster more interest in science as a career among youths.

We need a marriage between science and journalism to enhance public goodwill and support for science among Kenyan taxpayers and to nurture public will to support science as a nonpartisan staple of national investment in the future of Kenya’s economy and culture.

Such a marriage would be a match made in heaven with scientists working with journalists to publish news stories about breaking advances, providing explanations of science and medical processes; helping institutionalise science reporting as an ongoing news beat and, safeguarding, generating more credibility for the media as a source of research information.

The journalist in the science-journalism marriage would be assured of content, endless exciting news that adds value to the society – a welcome break from the daily media diet of politics and accidents and crime.

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