home   genetic news   bioinformatics   biotechnology   literature   journals   ethics   positions   events   sitemap
  HUM-MOLGEN -> mail archive   |   Search register for news alert (free)  
  Hans Goerl: ETHI: Science and PR (7 responses)  

archive of HUM-MOLGEN mails


[Author Prev][Author Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Author Index][Topic Index]

Subject: ETHI: Science and PR (7 responses)
From: Hans Goerl <GENETHICS@delphi.com>
Date: Mon, 14 Apr 1997 20:52:14 -0400

We had a large volume of responses to this post: due to HUM-MOLGEN'S policy
of limiting postings, only some are being forwarded. It is a lively
discussion. Thank you to all who responded.

Hans Goerl
ETHI editor
********* 1)

from: stevepush@aol.com

As a public relations professional with 15 years of experience disseminating
scientific news, I can assure you that PR does not taint science.  It plays
critical role in ensuring that scientific information is widely and
accurately distributed, in a format that is understandable to the lay

Many scientists have difficulty understanding what is newsworthy about their
work and translating it into lay langugage.  Journalists don't have time to
sift through all of the scientific literature available, and many of them
don't understand scientific concepts.  The PR professional identifies the
newsworthy aspects of scientific discoveries and presents them in a way that
helps journalists understand and explain these discoveries.

Scientists who receive government funding have an obligation to explain
their work to the public that pays for it.  Those working in such fields as
health and social science need publicity to ensure that useful discoveries
are adopted by people who can benefit from them.  And it is in the interests
of all scientists to seek appropriate publicity to ensure that an informed

public will continue to support their work.  The PR professional helps to
achieve these goals by increasing the frequency and improving the quality of
media coverage about science and technology.

There is, by the way, nothing new or unusual about what Stony Brook has
done.  Virtually all major universities and research institutions have staff
PR professionals, and many of the top insttituions have used PR firms,
including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer
Institute.  Many of the major scientifc journals, including Science and
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, use PR people to help them
get publicity for articles that they publish.

Stephen Push
Vice President, Corporate Communications
Genzyme Corporation
************* 2)

From: "Mark H. Greene" <greene@AMUG.ORG>

I, too, find this type of press coverage appalling.  It is clearly fostered
by the press in an effort to garner readers/viewers rather than to promote
a better understanding of the issue being covered.  As a medical
oncologist, I face on a daily basis patients who come to me with newspaper
clippings in hand touting the latest "breakthrough" in cancer treatment.
It is then left to ME to dash the false hope created by these unscrupulous
reports.  I wish the reporters and their publishers could spend a day
looking these patients in the eye as they are told the truth about these
stories.  Even more frustrating is the inaccuracy of most of the coverage;
the stories are filled with errors, misleading comments and conclusions,
etc, which make it difficult to even argue that they are fulfilling an
educational prupose.  The notion that some of this coverage is being
orchestrated by the investigators themselves is even more aggravating.  I
suspect that much of this may originate with the PR offices of the
institutions to which the investigators belong, rather than the
investigators themselves.  I believe the investigators' must exercise some
restraint when subjected to this type of suggestion, and must resist the
temptation to be drawn into the spotlight over stories that are clearly not
general interest news.

Mark H. Greene, M.D.
Division of Hematology/Oncology
Mayo Clinic Scottsdale
Scottsdale, AZ

(These are my personal opinions and not those of the Mayo Clinic)
************* 3)

from: hornbeck@home.com

Alas much of science has become hyberbole and good public relations.  =
Much that is mediocre but marketed well succeeds, much that is excellent =
fails. What does Darwin have to do with the climate in Science today?  =
Almost nothing.  Darwin is not only irrelevant to this discussion, but =
if he kept to his practice of sitting on his data he would not have a =
job in today's scientific community.  Unfortunately for Darwin, for all =
of us.

Peter V. Hornbeck, Ph.D.
Phosphoprotein Databases Inc.
230 Brandon Rd.
Baltimore, MD 21212
(410) 337-7286
email:  hornbeck@home.com
************* 4)

From: Skip <kseth@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU>

Life would be great if everything were perfect and we all slept on roses.
In the final analysis, science IS just another product, like it or not,
and it's up to scientists to convince the world that it's an extremely
valuable and important product.  Otherwise, they might just stop
supporting what we do -- and stop paying our salaries and financing our
research.  To dismiss public relations expertise, out of hand, is just as
naive as to believing everything you hear.  Public relations firms have
tools that are useful and powerful.  The problem is that scientists --
perhaps yourself included -- think that if they ignore it it will
either get better on its own or just disappear.  The problem with
exaggerated news reports is that scientists are, for the most part,
completely clueless on how to use the media to get the right message
By the way, grant reviewers and budget directors read the papers, too.
*************** 5)

from: Douglas Ferris <ferris@NCIFCRF.GOV>

I am frankly appalled at the use of public relations firms by scientists
and in this particular case even a little disgusted.  The observation of
elevated map kinase levels in breast tumors is not much of an advance.
More to the point however, I agree that this type of promotional effort by
individual scientists is demeaning to science in general and in the long
run, will not be good for scientists, economically or otherwise

Douglas K. Ferris, PhD.
Frederick, MD 21702

From:  <pbrett@HGMP.MRC.AC.UK>

Thoughts:- Has the data been peer reviewed and published or accepted for =
If not this could be a very cynical way of ensuring that no referee dare =
reject this paper.

If the goal was to make sure that the media did not hype the findings, =
then perhaps controlling the media in this way may prevent some of their =

In this age of increased competetion for shrinking resources being high =
profile is of a huge benefit, especially when applying to charities and =
patient groups for funding.

I feel that the first thought is the only important one and the other =
two totally understandable.  The rubbish about the gay gene only got =
published due to this sort of media pressure and the unfortunate result =
was a lot more rubbish research has been carried-out and published.  =
This meant presumably that some other research projects were not funded =
as a result.

Peter Brett.
** 7)

from: jlw@nhgri.nih.gov

As a science communicator at a non-profit - not a PR person from a Madison
Ave firm - I would add a few points as a basis for the discussion.

It is important to better understand the goals and motivations of  a
professional PR team when it is brought into the research setting from
outside like this:

 What are they tasked to do and how they will prove they have done it well
so they can "prove" they are performing well to continue or just get paid?

How did they get there?  Someone at the institution has made an expensive
choice to bring them in and this has great meaning as you think of your
scientific response in the light of the organization's hiring of a PR

How do they typically look at research news as part of their job. Do they
do this to make headlines or to inform the public? Are they measuring
success qualitatively or quantitatively, are they a short term fix for a
short term problem, will their actions represent the organization in the
same light the organization is now known, etc.

 It is worth remembering that bringing in a
PR team is not a casual choice. It can be due to a collaboration in the
research with a for-profit company that worries the resulting media
coverage will not be structured in a manner that best represents current or
future market interests unless a PR firm is involved; or due to  the
addition to institutional leadership of slicker marketing types that are
aimed at "selling" the institution to more parents of potential students,
more donors or  boards of trustees; or as the result of other institutions
explaining the short term gains they made by bringing in a PR firm (these
firms amass a long "client list" of major organizations to validate their

In the longer view, after 20+ years of communicating compelling research
successfully to media, it appears to me that many - and often the largest -
of these firms achieve short-term success by raping an organization's media
reputation for immediate benefit - over hyping stories, pushing stories
excessively, name dropping to get into reporters offices and then using
these same entrees to fuel a media effort for the next client etc.
This is not evident to many who hire them.

The other approach - not using a PR firm to do media/communications work -
is to bring on competent communications people at the organization who are
there for the long haul and part of the day - to - day workings of the
place (not just showing up when someone yells "eureka") - ie. "set up a
communication office and staff it with competent people .

The communications office staff go about learning the culture, the
research, being there for the multitude of supporting roles the media needs
weekly instead of just the few discoveries a good year affords, etc. These
teams dot the US non-profit landscape and do their media efforts very well
without the addition of boiler-plated communications plans and slick

After all, the media know the PR teams for what they are - they call them
all the time with everything from new biotech. They know the in-house
communications teams as well. And they know what it means to see a shift
from one to the other.

Media is relationship building. It's judgement about when to call and when
not to call. And it is something that an organization needs to know is
being done in a manner that exemplifies its culture, as opposed to a
result-oriented process that uses any tool to get press.

Jeff Witherly
Director of Outreach and Education
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Building 49, Room  3A82
49 Convent Drive, MSC 4470
Bethesda, MD  20892-4470

jlw@nhgri.nih.gov (Work)

home   genetic news   bioinformatics   biotechnology   literature   journals   ethics   positions   events   sitemap

Mail converted by MHonArc 2.4.4
WWW: Kai Garlipp, Frank S. Zollmann.
7.0 1995-2001 HUM-MOLGEN. All rights reserved. Liability and Copyright.