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5 Society at Large The peoples' science is where science eventually becomes technology and engineering. There, it serves people materially, just as in its primary form science enhances understanding. But serving materially gets com- plicated by economics and emotions. So journalists and media makers, with their time and space pressures, find it hard to dig in and get at the underlying discovery. William O. Baker Media Resource Service 1984 New York: Scientists' Institute for Public InformationJ Overview American society depends on innovation for its prosperity and `growth, and innovation, in turn, depends on the ingenuity of engineers. Yet most Americans have little idea of what engineers are or what they do. Moreover, as critical social policy discussions increasingly involve technology and engineering {e.g., toxic waste disposal and reprocess- ing, nuclear safety, military weapons systems, space program options, robotics, recombinant DNA applications!, this public ignorance begins to have ominous societal implications. It seems reasonable to conclude that the public needs more information and a letter understanding of the role of engineering in today's technologically complex world. Because the general public depends on the mass media newspa 49

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50 S UPPOR T ORGANIZATIONS pers, magazines, radio, and television for the vast majority of its information, any effort to improve public understanding of engineering must focus on improving media coverage. The mass media constitute the major bridge between what C.P. Snow called the "two cultures": the technological community and the general public. Yet considering the critical role engineers play in today's society, media coverage of engineering has been scanty and confused. Tournal- ists often consider the roles of engineers and scientists to be inter- changeable, frequently attributing the successes of the U.S. space program, for example, to "NASA scientists." In addition, a survey con- ducted among 1,000 journalists in the preparation of this report indi- cated a widely held stereotype of engineers as inarticulate. Perhaps most significantly the survey also shows that journalists generally have difficulty finding engineers who are willing to talk with the press. The first step in improving the public's understanding of the engi- neer is to identify the needs not only of the engineering community but of the media and the general public for more and better information about engineering. The engineering community wants recognition for its contributions to society; the media want "stories"; and the public wants information that will be useful in everyday life. At first glance, it may seem that these needs are totally distinct or even conflicting. However, a closer look reveals that these needs have a common compo- nent: the public's desire for accurate, credible information about what William 0. Baker describes as "the peoples' science." It is only by addressing the needs of the media and the general public, as well as its own needs, that the engineering community can succeed in improving its media coverage. Conventional public relations approaches will not work with today' s science-and-technology j ournal- ists who are already flooded with press releases and phone calls "pitch- ing" products, processes, and programs by the thousands. The single most important step the engineering community can take to help improve media coverage and at the same time, to help overcome the barriers of misunderstanding and mistrust between the engineering community and the media is to provide journalists with ready access to reliable, credible sources of information. In May 1984 the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on the Commu- nication of Scientific Risk, headed by Harrison E. Schmitt, recom- mended "the establishment of organizations to provide journalists with a broad range of scientific and technical information especially during crisis situations when there is little time to dig up background material and to make specialized knowledge of scientists available to them." Some mechanisms for implementing this suggestion have

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SOCIETY AT LARGE 51 already been established, and the framework for a media resource net- work is for the most part in place [see Appendix A). Most of the larger engineering societies and the National Academy of Engineering [NAEJ maintain membership listings and a committee structure that would make it relatively easy to identify engineers qualified to comment on specific topics. Public information offices at leading technological institutes often have similar listings of their faculty members. In addi- tion, the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force cites as "one useful model" the Media Resource Service of the Scientists' Institute for Pub- lic Information. TO ~. ~ _ - . 10 succeed In Improving its image, however, the engineering com- munity must overcome certain lingering isolationist attitudes, includ- ing elitism j "the public doesn't need to know what I'm doing and can't understand it anyway"), blaming the media for the lack of public sup- port, and fear of discussing problems or controversies. The opportunity for increasing the quantity and the quality of media coverage of engineering has never been better. A new computer-age generation of readers and viewers has begun to make its presence felt among media managers. One recent reflection of this is the prolifera- tion of science/technology sections in daily newspapers around the country, most of which include a regular column on computers. The interconnectedness of engineering and the pul~lic's workaday world has never been more apparent. But before this interconnectedness can be exploited to improve the public's perceptions of engineering, the needs of all the parties involved must be defined and examined. What Engineers Need Traditionally, engineers have had little success in communicating to the public the problems and promise of the technological enterprise. While few engineers conform to the stereotype of the inarticulate clod, many are cool to media queries, suspecting that reporters are simply looking for sensationalism and are incapable of under~nclin~ mom_ . . P exltles. -- - Or ~^~ ~ ~ I ~ ~ ~111~, w~111 In recent years, more and more engineers have become aware that their reticence has contributed to several serious problems: reduced financial support for academic research, a proliferation of state and federal regulatory legislation, an increasing burden of paperwork and administrative details, and, most important, a growth of public suspi- cion and mistrust. A particular problem faced by the engineering community is the widespread stereotype of engineers as "wooden." In preparing this

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52 S UPPOR T ORGANIZATIONS report, the task force surveyed 1,118 journalists {569 science writers and 549 generalists d; 74 percent of the respondents said they felt this stereotype was either " true " or " somewhat true " ~ see Appendix B J . In the days when technology was generally viewed as the goose that lays the golden egg of progress, this was not a serious problem. But today, the eggs are not all golden and the technological problems of the modern age [Three Mile Island, DC-lOs, toxic wastes J have fostered a growing public reaction against modernity. Engineers can no longer afford the attitude that the public " can't understand" or " doesn't need to know" about technology. What the Media Need The press has been accused of committing a great many sins in its handling of such technological controversies as Three Mile Island. But regardless of the bias {and, to be sure, bias existsJ of the particular newspaper or television network, the press depends for its information on professional, expert authorities. With a small number of notable exceptions, media people have little or no training in science and tech- nology and no time or money to acquire it. All too often the media are forced to grab what they can "on the run." {This is especially true for television. J Despite the increased attention paid to science and technology by many media outlets, it is no secret that the media in general remain either underinformed or misinformed in these areas. Although they may have the best of intentions, journalists find it virtually impossible to manage the volume of information that is required to remain abreast of technological developments. The single biggest problem in overcoming this information gap is the media's lack of easily accessible sources, responsible experts who are able and willing to answer, articulately and factually, media questions on the fast-breaking developments in this increasingly technological society. At three recent science/technology workshops for general assign- ment reporters in Pennsylvania, Sharon Friedman, journalism profes- sor at Lehigh University and organizer of the workshops, reported that most of the participants cited a lack of background and information sources as their chief problem in covering these topics. The survey conducted by the task force See Appendix B) also indicated that the paucity of engineers as sources was a particular problem for the media. Journalists were asked: In stories dealing with health, science, or tech- nology, what percentage of the time do you call upon any of the follow

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SOCIETY AT LARGE 53 ing types of experts? Engineers averaged 10 percent as compared to 40 percent for physicians and 35 percent for scientists. Increasingly, news organizations are hiring or assigning one staff person as a science specialist. However, no one specialist can possibly cover the growing number of scientific and technical disciplines that have become intertwined with our social policy decisions. As Howard Simons of the Washington Post has pointed out, science writing is a specialty that is many specialties. Even when an outlet decides to hire an articulate scientist, how will it decide which one to hire: the bio- chemist who knows recombinant DNA research but gets lost in geol- ogy, or the geologist who understands oil and gas reserves but knows nothing of aerospace? Moreover, because most of today's "science" stories actually involve applications of technology, even a good general knowledge of science may not equip a science writer with the back- ground or contacts needed to provide responsible coverage of breaking events. A strong case can still be made for having a general assignment reporter rather than a specialist cover science/technology stories- sameone who reflects the feelings and questions of the general public. But the issue is not so much who does the reporting as who answers the reporters' questions. Whether the media executive chooses a specialist or a general assignment reporter or both, any and all of these individuals must have access to the widest possible list of expert resources. What The Public Needs The most compelling reason for improving communication between engineers and journalists is the public's need for responsible informa- tion. And it is a critical need because the public's perception of technol- ogy has become a major factor in national decision making E.g., Three Mile IsTand). The social implications of this situation extend far beyond such immediate issues as nuclear power or toxic chemicals, or the short- term interests of engineers. Responsible public participation in the decision-making process requires a public that is well informed about science and technology. Without such information, the public is forced to act Or more often react) out of fear of the unknown or simply to leave decison making to the so-called experts. Either alternative can be dev- astating to the democratic system. To quote Walter Cronkite: "We are living in a truly revolutionary age in one generation we have entered three new eras: the Space Age, the Atomic Age, and the Computer Age. Understanding any one of these requires more information than any

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54 S UPPOR T ORGANIZATIONS one of us can possibly have. We are in a crisis because of this how do we inform the electorate? because a democracy cannot survive with- out an informed electorate." * The current wave of popular and media interest in science and tech- nology provides an unprecedented opportunity to meet this need. Breaking the Silence In this country, when a company wants more or better public expo- sure for a product or a program, it usually hires an advertising agency or a public relations firm. While this practice {i.e., salesmanship may work for selling new and used cars, it will not work for the engineering enterprise as a whole. Indeed, it may only aggravate existing misunder- standing and mistrust between journalists and engineers. In recent years, journalists, and especially science writers, have been besieged by press releases and phone calls from public relations people trying to "sell" technology to the press. Two years ago, the National Association of Science Writers devoted an entire issue of its newsletter to a series of angry complaints from leading science journalists around the country, expressing resentment of what they call science hype. But the question remains: If a PR campaign won't work, what will? As already noted, the primary need felt by journalists covering sci- ence and technology is for increased and more reliable sources of infor- mation. Despite the current fashion of blaming media coverage for the public's misconceptions, the recent report by the previously men- tioned Task Force of the Twentieth C entry Fund declared: "If news organizations exaggerate the health risks of new diseases, nuclear power accidents or toxic waste spills, the fault is probably in their sources of information, not their way of operating." The single most important step the engineering community can take to improve media coverage of engineering is to make its expertise acces- sible upon request from journalists. By responding to journalists' que- ries, engineers will be providing information when it is needed, thus avoiding the sales-pitch type of pressure that only serves to alienate listeners. Once an engineering resource network is set up, however, another important step will be an energetic outreach effort to inform journalists around the country of its availability. This media informa- tion campaign needs to be viewed as an ongoing program, conducted * Media Resource Service 1984 (New York: Scientists' Institute for Public Informa- tion), p. 1.

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SOCIETY AT LARGE 55 primarily through the mail, but also enlisting the cooperation of media- society publications and forums to announce the new network. The journalist-engineer relationships established through this inter- action can lee instrumental in overcoming the stereotypes and mistrust that currently characterize each community's attitudes toward the other. If the experience of the Media Resource Service is any indication, journalists will soon discover that most engineers are not inarticulate, and engineers will learn that most journalists are not merely sensation- seekers. Indeed, many journalists are intimidated lay technology [even as many engineers are intimidated by the medial, and the increased person-to-person contact can help to overcome that intimidation. Although it is understood that not every telephone conversation will bring ideal results, the effect of thousands of such conversations over several years will lie improved mutual understanding and, not insig- nificantly, improved media coverage. To succeed in this approach, the engineering community must over- come certain attitudes that have served to reinforce its isolation from the public at large: A narrow, short-term view that seeks recognition only for engi- neering achievements selected lay professional societies and institu- tions and refuses to discuss anything else. A lingering elitism that argues that the general public has no need to know what engineers are doing ~ "and anyway, our work is too com- plicated for the average person to understand" J. Fears on the part of some engineers, especially in the private sec- tor, that talking to the press will inevitably result in the violation of some company policy. Antimedia bias [often leased on experience with inaccurate report- ingJ that blames journalists for the pulalic's fear of certain technologies and sometimes extends to an informal boycott of the press loy those engineers holding this view. A reluctance on the part of some engineers and engineering leaders to discuss controversial social policy issues such as toxic waste dis- posal, nuclear power or the impact of robotics on employment. These attitudes may reflect some legitimate concerns, but their net effect is to reinforce the barriers of mistrust and misunderstanding that already exist between the media and the engineering community. Whatever real or imagined problems engineers see in the process of reaching out to the media, these problems can loe overcome through discussion and planning within engineering societies, corporate research divisions, and other technology institutions. The primary req

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56 SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONS uisite is a commitment on the part of these organizations and the entire engineering community to improve public understanding. Mechanisms for such an improvement are for the most part already in place and need only be strengthened and expanded. In addition to public information offices of engineering societies, the National Acad- emy of Engineering, and technical institutes, such mechanisms include the Media Resource Service of the Scientists' Institute for Pub- lic information OSIRIS; the Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellow- ship program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science ~AAAS ~ i the Vannevar Bush Fellowships in Public Understand- ing of Technology and Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Tech- nology OMITS; media seminars sponsored by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing; and the Media Roundtable program cosponsored by SIPI, AAAS, and the Association of American Universi tles. Engineers can provide invaluable information and understanding to the media and, through the media, to the public. With the help of existing mechanisms and in cooperation with engineering societies and institutions, the silence can be broken. Opportunities for Expansion Opportunities to increase the quantity and the quality of media coverage of engineering have never been more plentiful. Science and technology coverage has expanded dramatically in recent years, partic- ularly in the print media. At least seven major new science and technol- ogymagazineswerelaunchedbetween 1979 and 1982to satisfy to whet publishers perceived as a growing popular interest. Although some of these magazines have recently folded, the survivors appear to be thriv- ing. In addition, a plethora of computer and specialized high- technology magazines has appeared, and bookstores report these publications are among their most popular items. Even more significantly, no fewer than 14 large and mid-sized news- papers across the country have launched weekly science/technology sections during the past 2 years, and more are on the way. Numerous others have begun weekly science pages. With the N. ~ Times' Tuesday "Science Times," which started the trend in 1979, and the Miami Herald's section, which was begun in 1980, the number of such sec- tions is now 16. Although the quality of science and technology coverage varies from newspaper to newspaper, these sections all share the goal of making technologically sophisticated subjects accessible to and understood by

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SOCIETY AT LARGE 57 the general public. The extra space for large, colorful, and detailed illustrations is a further attempt to provide more comprehensible explanations of complex scientific and technological concepts. These sections represent a major departure from previous publications that were aimed at audiences already attentive to science and technology. The new science sections are directed at what media executives see as a new computer-age generation of readers. Although the ever-popu- lar medical and health topics take up 25 percent or more of the columns in these sections, just as much if not more space is now devoted to high technology subjects and computers. This emphasis is reflected in the names of some of the new sections: "Science/Computers," "Tomor- row, " "Sci/Tech, " "Future Currents. " Many also carry a regular com- puter column by a local expert. David Lawrence is the executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, whose science section has just expanded by 50 percent and changed its name from "Science" to "Science/High Tech." Lawrence explains: " Our expansion is based on market research, sure, but it's no more than what you can see with your own eyes. It's all those people with com- puters in their basements. It's my seven-year-old's second-grade com- puter class." Network television has not yet matched this coverage, but the increase in radio, television, and cable news broadcasts offers greatly expanded opportunities for reports on developments in the engineering community. Nearly 30 percent of the calls received by SIPI's Media Resource Service come from radio and television journalists. An analy- sis of these inquiries indicates that the overwhelming majority deal with the promises, applications, and consequences of technology in the world rather than with the development and testing of theories in the laboratory. Here, the engineer, rather than the scientist, becomes the critical expert with whom journalists must speak. Conclusions The conclusions reached by the task force are enumerated below: 1. An understanding of the engineering community lay society at large, which is vital to the health of the engineering enterprise, depends on the ability of engineers to communicate with the public through the mass media. 2. The current explosion in the use of home and office computers and other high-technology products has created an unprecedented opportunity for increased public awareness of the work of the engineer

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58 SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONS ing community. This opportunity is illustrated by the growth of popu- lar media coverage of science and technology, including a recent proliferation of weekly science/technology sections in daily newspa- pers. 3. Engineers and engineering have not received media coverage that reflects either the quantity or quality of their contributions to today's "high-tech society." 4. The principal problem journalists face in covering the engineer- ing enterprise is a lack of access to responsible, credible sources of information and understanding. Until now, the engineering commu- nity has done little to remedy this situation. Recommendations In addition to strengthening and expanding existing support mecha- nisms {see Appendix A), the engineering community should take immediate steps to develop a national network to provide journalists with access to information about engineers and engineering, thereby improving public awareness and understanding. There are several pos- sible approaches that are not mutually exclusive: Within the major organizations in the engineering community {engineering societies, technical institutes, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Industrial Research Institute), establish lists of available experts, cross-referenced by specialization and geographical location. Such lists would be set up through the public information offices of the various organizations, and consultation and cooperation among the groups would be maintained on an informal basis. Develop more formal, centralized coordination of these available sources of technological information by a leading organization such as the National Academy of Engineering or a division of the National Science Foundation. Use SIPI's Media Resource Service as the centerpiece of the net- work to coordinate referrals to appropriate professional societies, the National Academy of Engineering, technical institutes, the Industrial Research Institute, and corporate public relations offices. Any or all of these approaches require the development of a roster of available resource personnel by major organizations within the engi- neering community and a plan for communication and coordination among these groups. On controversial issues, the network must be prepared to provide access to responsible sources representing a diver . ~ . . sixty of opinion.

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SOCIETY AT LARGE 59 Once the network is in place, a coordinated media outreach effort should be launched to advise journalists of its existence and to identify emerging areas of engineering achievement and policy issues on which experts are available to comment. Journalists may need to be reminded frequently of the availability of engineers as resources, especially dur- ing the initial months of the new network. Indeed, engineering resources already available to the media, through public information offices at engineering institutes and professional societies, would almost certainly be called upon more often if journalists were reminded more frequently of their existence. The new network should plan to conduct such an informational campaign using mailings to journalists and also enlisting the cooperation of media-society publications and meetings. The network should also provide expert engineering resources for existing and future mechanisms that offer seminars and classes in sci- ence and technology for journalists. These mechanisms include the Science Media Fellowship Program of the ALAS; the Vannevar Bush Fellowships in Public Understanding of Technology and Science at MIT; the media seminars of the Council for the Advancement of Sci- ence Writing; and the Media Roundtable program cosponsored by AAAS, the Scientists' Institute for Public Information, and the Associa- tion of American Universities. The National Academy of Engineering and other leading groups within the engineering community should seek to set up similar seminars and other educational programs for . . . fours lStS. Funding for the network should come from four sources: govern- ment, through the National Science Foundation; media organizations; engineering societies; and the corporate community. This four-part funding is essential to the public credibility that the network must . . ... . - malutam it it IS to succeec ..

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