For years, Friedman recalls, scientists and journalists hardly mixed at all. He recounts a study that said "scientists viewed journalists as 'imprecise, mercurial, and even dangerous.' They, in turn, saw us as 'narrowly focused, self-absorbed, cold-eyed, and arrogant.'"
Friedman lays much of the blame for the testy relationship on the scientists, who, he says, didn't understand the deadline pressures journalists faced and weren't willing to take the time to help them understand the science.
Neither did scientists know how to explain their work, and many were burned by trial and error. In the 1980s when he was working at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Friedman recalls, he did an interview with a science-challenged reporter who "needed to understand, very late in the day, why scientists didn't think marijuana had much acute toxicity.
"I tried without success to explain this idea, reaching further and further for an appropriate image, but to no avail. I finally said, 'The most dangerous thing about marijuana would be if a bale of it fell on you.' This particular quote appeared the next day in The Washington Post. This was in the days of 'Just Say No,' and for a while I feared for my job. The upside, I guess, was that the entire scientific staff of the NIDA extramural program got media training."
With persistent practice, Friedman says, he has been able to explain and discuss science with scores of journalists in the years since then. "It's a learnable skill."
Friedman is now the director of the Addiction Studies Program for Journalists at the School of Medicine. The program has taught more than 300 journalists about the neurobiology of drug addiction. A related program has begun for state officials and legislators, who make policy and funding decisions about drugs and related social issues.
In his commentary, Friedman encourages his fellow scientists who have not already
|Contact: Mark Wright|
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center