One of the functions of mass media is surveillance which involves the observation of happenings in the society and providing information to people. However, a society's dependence upon media would be based on their application of the method of knowing in the process of observing and reporting the day-to-day affairs. It is even more crucial in the context of science communication which could be summed as the media's attempt to connect science with society.
One who reports and writes science performs the duty of a person of science. Hence, a science communicator needs to foster the dissemination of accurate information about science and technology with the highest standards of journalism. A journalist as a person of science always abides by the scientific approach which has the characteristic of self-correction. In other words, scientific communication makes the people understand about constructing the meaning and conclude the phenomena only by the evidence.
Method of science As the method of science derives that the ultimate conclusion of every human being shall be the same, it is ensured only by the highest professional standards. For a journalist, the method of science would be essential to distinguish differences between science and common sense. For Albert Einstein, not everybody, who has learned to use tools and methods that directly or indirectly appear to be scientific, is a man of science. In a message sent to the Italian society in 1950, he states that a person to whom scientific mentality is truly alive is a man of science. As Einstein discusses the position of today's man of science as a member of society, a journalist as a person of science can inform and educate society by presenting systematically and empirically tested theories and hypotheses.
Even in the case of considering science and common sense are alike, science is understood as a systematic and controlled extension of common sense based on a series of concepts and conceptual schemes satisfactory for the practical uses of the human being. But, as Fred N. Kerlinger, an American psychology educator, argues the concepts and conceptual schemes may seriously be misleading in modern science. In connecting science and society, the mass media can update the public about the probing of nature by natural scientists. Likewise, they can speed up the process of diffusion of scientific innovations to provide people with an opportunity to be benefitted from the achievement of science and technologies.
The media's ability to present various observable events that occur in a natural or designed system enhances its quality in terms of content. Moreover, such ability and efforts help the society overcome superstition and embrace modernity. Human beings have been observing different phenomena everywhere in their surroundings. Natural phenomena such as rain, lightning, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes or climate change are easier to notice. The world of science has been solving numerous myths with relentless experiments and exploration to define different natural phenomena that exist in the universe. Over the centuries, scientists from the different branches and sub-branches of natural science, right from physical and life science such as cosmology, geology, physics, and chemistry to biology have been observing the surroundings.
However, access to those scientific conclusions is not pervasive even today. Since media can play a pivotal role in creating conversations at every level of society, they can diffuse the scientific knowledge among the general public who have no access to science education. According to Everett M. Rogers, an American sociologist, the diffusion process is the spread of a new idea from its source of invention or creation to its ultimate users or adopters in a social system over time. As media represent one of the prominent sub-systems within a society, their role in the diffusion of innovations and ideas has already been proved.
In his seminal work, The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East, Daniel Lerner argues that the absence of curiosity goes together with the absence of knowledge in a reciprocal equation; ignorance and immobility are twin growths. It is evident in a variety of traditional societies, the persistent interaction between superstitions is an absence of knowledge and stability equals the absence of change. Mass media can play a pertinent role in this regard by bridging the gap between scientific and public communication. They can reproduce scientific documents or research-report with due courtesy, which is equally important as evidence, in the form of journalistic products.
Scientific approach Since people around the world get most of their information about science from the mass media, the science researchers, policymakers and journalists need to collaborate to improve the state of science reporting in the Nepali mass media as well. But the science reporting should not be confined to the arena of reporting about scientific achievements, discoveries or findings. Rather there should be a scientific approach to reporting any phenomena visible in society. For instance, there could be a political or mythological aspect of sweating of a stone image of one god, but a science communicator needs to explain the phenomena of capillary action or upward movement of water.
Because of lack of dissemination of the scientific ideas, there are challenges in cultivating effective relations between science, the media and the public for the betterment of human beings. However, people of science and media as science communicators around the world are presenting the natural phenomena with the method of science and spreading the innovations for their wider level of approval, acceptance and adoption. In a country like ours, where a scientific knowledge has still been challenged by the method of tenacity, authority and intuition, the media can contribute to change such mindset.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)