SCIENCE is everywhere and it impacts all aspects of our lives, but it remains an elite subject, far from the comprehension of the public and even mass media. Fake news is abound and both the public and the media are often unable to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. This is more evident in the time of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Science often takes a backseat in mainstream media and only hits the headline either during a eureka moment or a crisis. There are many reasons for this. Lack of science desks at media houses; lack of science journalists and scientists who are trained in communication; the knowledge and cultural gap between scientists and journalists; and the fear of being misquoted by the media are some of the main reasons.
These issues become magnified during a crisis like COVID-19.
To address this issue, Malaysian Biotechnology Information Centre (MABIC) and The Petri Dish launches a platform to provide factual and evidence-based information to support journalists to report on complex or controversial science issues that make headlines, such as the SARS-CoV-2.
The online media platform known as Science Media Centre (SMC) Malaysia is co-founded by MABIC Executive Director, Dr. Mahaletchumy Arujanan and former Astro AWANI broadcast journalist, Tan Su Lin.
As a journalist, Su Lin is aware of the struggle faced by journalists to source for timely science-based information and experts in relevant science disciplines.
“Currently, there is so much misinformation out there about COVID-19, especially on social media. We want to help better inform the public about the risks of the virus, and this is achieved by debunking misinformation through critical and accurate reporting on science by the media.”
“We know that journalists are constantly working on a deadline, therefore our online resource centre will provide journalists with timely and relevant quotes from scientists on insightful analysis from across the research fields,” said Su Lin who is also a returning Chevening scholar from the UK.
On COVID-19, SMC Malaysia aims to compile reactions and statements from scientists ranging from basic information on virology, immunology, viral genomes, vaccines development and treatments for journalists’ easy reference.
“Beyond this pandemic, SMC Malaysia will serve as a bridge between the scientific community and mass media to ensure science reaches the public without being tainted with misinformation”, says Mahaletchumy.
The platform also connects journalists to credible and articulate scientists from across various research fields through its database of experts.
“This is long overdue in Malaysia and this is MABIC’s 2nd project after successfully publishing the 1st science newspaper, The Petri Dish for almost 10 years now,’ says Mahaletchumy who is the founder editor-in-chief of the newspaper.
Other services provided by SMC Malaysia are media training workshops; a network of scientists and journalists who could continuously interact and exchange information; and excerpts from scientists on latest scientific development.
Mahaletchumy hopes that scientists, universities, research institutes and government agencies will support this effort to improve science communication and science literacy in the country.
“SMC Malaysia welcomes the scientific community to use this platform to share their expertise on pressing science-related issues. The virtual centre will facilitate more scientists to engage with the media.
“The SMC network of journalists and scientists is expected to improve the quality and quantity of media coverage on science-related topics and ultimately help the public to access scientific information.”
SMC Malaysia is part of an international network of Science Media Centres around the world such as the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Canada. SMCs are not-for-profit independent organisations that work collaboratively with each other and with the media and scientific institutions within their own countries; with the main mission is to inform public debate and discussion on the major issues of the day by injecting evidence based science into headline news.
SMC Malaysia’s website link: https://www.sciencemediacentremalaysia.com