Interview with Anja C Andersen, plenary speaker at PCST

The dilemma of media meeting science is the topic that Danish astronomer Anja C Andersen will be addressing in her speech at the PCST conference. As one the most prominent popularisers of research in Denmark, she has a lot of experience of how communicating research works in practice.
“I would like to see less reporting on research results and more on features and programmes that make people understand the research process and scientific way of thinking.”

Anja C Andersen is a newcomer to the PCST network, but certainly not to the field of research communication. In addition to writing popular science books on astronomy and giving public lectures, she has participated in several popular science radio and TV programmes.

She is often interviewed in newscasts, and is a diligent debater on research issues and women´s situation in the current research community.

“I am not negative about making research in general into news, but I find it disturbing that a lot of research results are reported just because they are easy to transform into headlines and not because they are relevant,” she explains.

Another problem is the lack of context and analysis, which risks misguiding the public, Anja C Andersen observes.

“For example, the media give us report after report on what you should not eat, what food gives you cancer or which vitamins you should avoid. But since each study is not related to a broader research context and is not analyzed, people end up confused with just bits and pieces of information but no string to put them on.”

Anja C Andersen concludes that researchers should be more careful in what they choose to present to journalists. She would like to contribute to the conference by starting a discussion about how to communicate interesting science that cannot be presented as news.

“I also like to debate the idea that every researcher is expected to go out and inform the media about their research. I do not think that is wise. You have to ask yourself what is relevant or not to put before the public.”

Today the world is facing a lot complicated and challenging issues, such as the climate change. Communicating science to the public in a good way is therefore more important than ever, stresses Anja C Andersen. She stresses the democratic dimension of research communication.

“If the man in the street is to have a fair chance to participate in how to deal with the important issues in our society, he needs to be informed by the scientists and understand the scientific way of thinking. Otherwise the matter will be taken care of only by technocrats and politicians.

But the reason that Anja C Andersen is engaged in research communication is not only the urge to educate people.

— Meeting people with other backgrounds is very inspiring, since they ask different kinds of questions and make you think in a different direction. I would not spend so much time on communicating research if it did not give me something in return.

Text: Jessica Rydén