Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 7, 2011- Seattle, AFS. Beware of media coverage of fisheries!

Have you ever been confused by the media's coverage of fisheries and their impact on marine ecosystems? Chances are, you've been drawn to headlines with shocking statements about the global state of the world's oceans. Sometimes, the headlines are contradictory. Are the oceans dieing, or are fish stocks recovering? Jennifer Jacquet, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, gave a really interesting talk yesterday that took a close look at how media covers fisheries science.  Often media articles reflect information presented in a press release by a University communications office, a private organization, or the scientist his or herself - and this is the important part - before they have been peer-reviewed. Dr. Jacquet gave several examples where media reported science that had not been peer-reviewed and where the same media outlet alternately presented scientific results that indicated opposite trends in global fisheries stocks. She suggested that journalistic standards should emphasize careful reading of peer-reviewed science and that some standards should be used to present scientific research as having "global" implications (often global implications are indicated by media based on research in a small area). Obviously, these standards are difficult to enforce in the highly competetive 24hr news cycle.

Nevertheless, these are all extremely important points that highlight our need to be more demanding of media coverage of science.   Dr. Jacquet highlights the need for careful reading of science presented in the media, and for objective and careful communication of science through objective sources. There is growing interest in fisheries in the general public, but also a growing level of confusion about marine ecosystems and fishing. The need for high-quality sources of information are more important than ever. But where will these trusted sources of information come from?

-Erik Chapman

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