Monday, October 6, 2008

MIR and The Media: How do we interface?

The music information retrieval (MIR) community has seen an increasing amount of press time in the past couple weeks (see here and here).  As this type of research gets more press coverage, an important issue is how the researchers interact with the press.  Recently, my favorite podcast, The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe interviewed Sharon Begley, the Senior Science Editor at Newsweek, about how science and media interact (podcast #166).

First, she discussing that relying on journalists to get the word out is sure-fire way to never get any press.  Surprisingly, for someone in "Big Media," she applauds The New Media paradigm.  Self-promotion, however, raises many ethical considerations since a few researchers are apt to over-publicize their results and well before any peer-review process has taken place.  I think it is key that researchers limit their publicity until after some form of peer-review.  For example, you will not hear any results about my research on this blog until it has been approved for publication. 

Second, the press is a profit-making machine.  Therefore, the fantastical will always get more press than the consensus.  The same pressures that apply to other media types, especially in the face of The New Media.  Generating readers will be the main point of any major media outlet.  Generally, the story will be modified to be mostly true, but the key point may still be lost.  It is up to the researchers to keep their message intact.

Third, researchers cannot expect the press to understand everything in their.  At best, you can hope for some amount of scientific knowledge from the press, but they will always trust a Ph.D. in some science, even if the guy is crank (e.g., creationists, homeopathy, etc.).  Being able to describe research in comfortable layman's terms is an essential skill for any scientist/engineer.

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