Scientific journalism and scientific disclosure

Do you know the difference between making scientific outreach and scientific journalism? A first analysis may suggest equality between activities, but there are important differences. Scientific journalism, in general, is interested in the dissemination of information. You see it in action when you open the web pages, buy a newspaper, or flip through a magazine that talks about the latest discoveries in the field of medicine, physics or biology, for example.

Scientific journalism is undoubtedly a very important activity and seems to have had some recognition. In 2012, the second edition of the National Symposium on Scientific Journalism took place in Rio de Janeiro. Since 1999 the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo (FAPESP) has developed the José Reis Program to Encourage Scientific Journalism, which recognizes:

The strengthening of a country’s science and technology system requires the adequate and systematic dissemination of the results of the research activities carried out in it by all means of communication.

We are experiencing an era of almost unrestricted access to the internet and this is not a bad thing, but it generates a lot of information and makes it difficult to apply filters that direct the public to reliable information. Although Ciência Hoje magazine points out that journalists in Latin America have plenty of enthusiasm for the profession, FAPESP still sees lack of motivation and training as serious problems in Brazil.

About 80% of them (Latin American journalists) do not think that scientific journalism is in crisis, 91% recommend the profession and 98% are working in the area in the next five years (Ciência Hoje).

In general, Brazilian society does not show a significant interest in the course and the products of science. Particularly notable is the level of ignorance about the research activities developed in Brazil. This is due, in large part, to the lack of journalists with specific motivation and adequate training in the field of scientific journalism (FAPESP).

Having said that, it is clear that scientific journalism informs the population about the developments of science, independently whether appropriate or not. Can we say then that scientific journalism makes scientific dissemination? the answer is yes. But we must look for something more that permeates the spirit of scientific dissemination. What is this something that differentiates the “scientific outreach” of “scientific journalism”?

Among the most popular exponents of science are, no doubt, the astronomer Carl Sagan and the naturalist David Attenborough. Sagan wrote several fantastic books and had active participation in the media to spread science, not only one job in particular. Especially, I want to highlight the TV series Cosmos: A personal voyager (1980) narrated and co-written by Sagan. In the series, Sagan does not speak of the more recent discoveries if not as some curiosity that supports some more central idea. Attenborough wrote and presented the series The Life by the BBC. The main idea of ​​this type of series is to show the origins of the universe and of life, how we understand nature, and why things are as they are and not otherwise.

Sagan and Attenborough seemed more interested in getting the public to assimilate scientific culture. In this conception, making scientific outreach is beyond reporting results. Disseminating science becomes a way of familiarizing the public with the scientific procedure, so as to put a little bit of what it is to be a scientist in each person’s imagination. There are countless scientists engaged in the task of scientific dissemination throughout the world. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku and many others.

In Brazil scientific journalism is exercised, whether of quality or not. As for the scientific divulgation, the physicist Marcelo Gleiser is very committed in the task. However, our scientists still neglect the importance of the activity.


Sofia Moutinho. Perfil em construção. Ciência Hoje On-line, Notícias 06/02/2013.
FAPESP. Jornalismo científico. Mídia Ciência.

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This work by Alison Felipe Alencar Chaves is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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