England's Science Media Centre has been in operation for more than a decade now. Others have been established in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, and a committee has been formed to consider setting one up in the United States.
All of which makes this a good time to ask the question posed this week by The Observatory at Columbia Journalism Review: Does the Science Media Centre help journalists?
That is apparently not its purpose. It was set up, says its director, Fiona Fox, to help scientists deal with the press. Its governing philosophy, she writes in Part 1 of a three-part series, is that "The Media will ‘Do’ Science Better when Scientists ‘Do’ the Media Better."
You might be forgiven for not understanding this; the SMC is not clear about it. Its home page links to programs for journalists, scientists, and press officers--and journalists come first. It identifies itself as "primarily a press office," which means that it is primarily devoted to publicizing science, not to helping scientists deal with the press.
Columbia Journalism Review has assembled a half dozen or so writers to debate the value of such science media centers. Part 1 is a debate over the value of the British center; Part 2 discusses how the media centers performed during the Fukushima nuclear crisis. And Part 3 asks whether establishing such a center in the U.S. would be a good idea.
My reading of these debates and discussions is that the people behind the centers are more enthusiastic about them than are journalists, who are largely skeptical.
I'm skeptical, too. I'd like to know more about the problem these centers are supposed to solve, and some detailed explanation of how they believe they are doing it--and can do it in the U.S.