Science is the compendium of the most powerful methods and styles of thought ever created to try to understand reality. It does not have the solution to all problems, but it has proven to be one of the main engines of progress for humanity. So, if the media aspire to report the most significant facts, shouldn't science be one of their regular contents? However, until a few years ago, the media tended to treat science as an something exotic, a secondary tributary in the mighty river of current affairs.
The trend has changed in recent years and this change has accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is no longer any doubt that science makes the news. However, all too often there is a gap between the supposed certainties reflected in the headlines and those that actually exist in scientific discussion.
FECYT's Science Media Centre Spain (SMC Spain) seeks to correct this anomaly.
SMC Spain wants to contribute to science being told in the media with a context, expert sources, and the best available evidence. This is the only way to improve the quality of public discussion on the many topical issues linked to science.
- The role of SMC Spain is to contribute to better science-related information in the media. To this end, it provides journalists with resources that enable them to produce good science content in the time frame of current affairs, such as expert reactions, evidence documents and contextual information, among other things.
- SMC Spain selects its content independently and shapes it solely based on journalistic criteria and scientific rigour.
- The main audience of SMC Spain is the media. The selection of content will consider the interest of the media and its audience. However, SMC Spain is built on the conviction that good scientific information in the media benefits society as a whole - and therefore the scientific community and the very process of defining public policy.
- SMC Spain deals with science that makes or will make headlines. That is to say: since SMC Spain serves the media, which work with current information, neither popularisation per se nor the teaching of science are among its tasks. However, SMC Spain does not respond solely to media demand. In principle, any scientific news with a high objective impact can concern SMC Spain, regardless of the interest shown by the media.
- Agile and with the appropriate degree of complexity. SMC Spain delivers its content at the pace and format of the media: with speed and clarity. Complicated issues will be addressed with the utmost clarity and avoiding technicalities, but no information will be omitted to help get an idea of their implications or complexity.
- SMC Spain does not ‘slant’ information. Its contents must be the ingredients for a good recipe: indispensable, of high quality and subject to little processing, in order to leave room for the approach of the person who signs the final article. The SMC Spain will provide the media with the ‘cleanest’ information possible, without slants or adjectives. This will avoid distortions in the message and make it easier for each media outlet to construct its piece.
- Clear, concise, and concrete. The three ‘Cs’ rule will apply to SMC Spain materials, which should be quickly understood by any journalist without a science background. Like any journalistic content, SMC Spain pieces should be engaging. But their appeal will not be stylistic or literary; rather, it will lie in their high informative quality.
- Maximum rigour. SMC Spain will not sacrifice rigour to reach a wide audience. The information it provides must be rigorously accurate. It will reduce the degree of detail to gain clarity and effectiveness in the message. “True” in this context means supported by peer-reviewed scientific publications, which will be cited, or attributable to expert sources, which will also be cited.
- Priority on scientific consensus. Content generated by SMC Spain will reflect the consensus reached by the scientific community on each issue. When issues that are controversial for society and for the scientific community itself are addressed, the contents of SMC Spain will reflect the discussion inherent to the scientific process, providing the necessary information to understand the debate.
- Expert sources in their field. SMC Spain will only gather opinions and information from people who can demonstrate solid knowledge in their area of expertise, based on their track record within the international R&D system. It is important to note that the aim is not to provide equidistant opinions, but rather reliable voices that set out the accepted consensus and controversies in the scientific community. Within these specialised expert sources, the SMC Spain team will try to ensure that there is a balance between women and men in the sources consulted.
- Critical thinking, also towards science itself. SMC journalists will maintain a constructively critical attitude towards science itself and those who do it, understanding and trying to convey that not only is research an activity in constant discussion, but that what today seems an indisputable truth tomorrow may only be a piece of a paradigm that has already been superseded.
- Explaining how science works. While the SMC does not do science outreach or science education, it does have a role to play in providing information that helps generalist journalists understand how science works. Although this type of content is not topical, it does influence the relationship between the media and science: the better journalists understand how science progresses, the better the headlines will be.
- To provide journalists with reliable information and sources on current affairs related to science.
- To work with the scientific community to engage as a source with national and international media through SMC’s global network.
- To serve as a platform for press offices and the network of Scientific Culture Units so that the messages of research staff are amplified.
- To encourage the public to be informed about controversial scientific issues in order to improve the quality of public debate.
SMC Spain is part of FECYT’s set of strategic projects, with strategic objective 1: “To promote effective, ethical and professional scientific communication with diverse audiences to strengthen dialogue and mutual engagement between science and society”.
This is one of the five objectives of the FECYT 2022 Action Plan to meet the goals of the FECYT Strategic Plan 2022-2024, aligned with FECYT’s mission and vision:
We catalyse the relationship between science and society, promoting the growth of Spanish scientific culture and fostering the transfer of knowledge through dissemination, education, training, information, and advice.
We collaborate with other agents and actors of the Science, Technology, and Innovation System in the internationalisation of Spanish science and the generation and analysis of data, and we provide support in the management of scientific information and open science.
A society that participates and makes use of a science-informed perspective, within the framework of an open and inclusive, articulated and communicated Science, Technology, and Innovation System, in order to progress in its critical capacity and in its personal and civic development.