By Kelly

The relationship between science and the popular media is often fraught with mistrust and misunderstanding. Journalists wish that we, the scientists, would stop using jargon and speak in terms that a general audience can understand.  And the scientists are (rightly) concerned that we will be misquoted, and that our meticulous explanation of X will be reduced to a few sound bites stitched together to produce and entirely unintended message about X. Imagine climate scientist Kelly Strzepek being quoted as saying that “I can’t believe what they are saying” ” it just isn’t warm enough!” in relation to climate change, when I was actually referring to the idiocy of climate change denial and the temperature of the coffee I have been given. This is clearly an exaggerated scenario, but in a society where climate change denialism is on the rise you just can not be too careful.

Recently some friends of mine attended a seminar that was aimed at helping early career scientists learn to love the media, perhaps in a similar way that Peter Sellers learned to love the atomic bomb. They had this gem to share with me on how to avoid being misquoted in a recorded interview:

If you want to ensure that you do not have your dialogue chopped up into pieces and reordered…. then wave your hands around your face! Think about it, if you have your hands around your face, then re-edited footage will be very obvious when your hands no longer move fluidly. The gestures will be discombobulated, or clearly out of sequence which is a clear indication of editing. Take Audrey Hepburn here, if here hands keep disappearing and reappearing, her impassioned discussion on the misrepresentation of the dramatic arts in the climate change debate might be considered disingenuous. According to the media-rep,  journalists will generally try to re-shoot  at least once, perhaps twice, but if you insist with ‘striking a pose’ Madonna style while speaking they will eventually just keep the footage.  But beware, I was also told that rubbing your nose is a definite no-no as it indicates you are lying. This is rather unfortunate for a friend who was recently filmed scratching his nose while saying that his university was the best university for prospective students. Oops.

This of course is of no use if the interview is for printed media. In this instance you may have to insist on seeing the final version.  Another friend of mine working on anthropogenic CO2 fluxes was appalled to discover she had been quoted saying the Earth had two atmospheres….I’m not sure even hand-waving helps if your journalist is a complete idiot.