It is the responsibility of scientists and journalists to work together in stopping such empathy fatigue, because empathy is the primary human quality that fuels our instinct to protect human rights around the world.
Jamil Zaki, Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It, The Huffington Post.
Circa 2009, I geeked out over Zaki’s article because, well, hearing a psychologist weigh in on the objectivity-is-perilous-in-journalism debate is refreshing. No one’s really arguing anymore over the fact that objectivity is a tricky, nuanced, sub-standard ethic for journalism, but a new, better ethic hasn’t quite emerged. A singular sterling standard probably won’t.
Last fall, some of the best and brightest in media sat down to talk about it all and thanks to Poynter, this book emerged. Really smart people all over the world are creating and debating around accurate and value-creative reporting. You can explore our ethics tag for past coverage of some of those conversations.
Zaki, who is on the science side of things, very much heeded his own call to action and today I’m geeking out over his newest project, The People’s Science, a digital public space where scientists and the public can meet, share, and talk about science.
The site’s purpose is to encourage scientists to write posts about their research in easy-to-understand language and for the public to have conversations with those scientists directly.
In Zaki’s words (via NPR):
In an ideal world, I think TPS could provide a platform for scientists to feature their work to a broad audience and describe why they find it exciting and relevant. For non-scientists, I hope that the site can provide an insider’s perspective on how scientists think, and a way to go beyond the “punchlines” of a given study and understand the process that went into it. I also think the public should be able to use this to vet other media sources, testing claims made by reporters against scientists’ own descriptions. Finally, I’d like the site to be a true forum: instead of each “pop” abstract serving as a static document, I’d like non-scientists and scientists alike to be able to ask questions and engage in discussion about the work posted here. At the highest level, my dream for this site would be to help scientists and non-scientists into more dialogue, which I believe can only be a good thing for our culture at large.
FJP: We agree, obviously, on very many levels. It humanizes the researchers behind academia’s impenetrable walls by thrusting them into the social sphere. It’s a gold mine for science reporters to have easy and direct access to emerging research and scientists. As someone who (in my non FJP life) works for an academic journal and deals quite regularly with the incomprehensible abstract and insanely long paper title, it’s wonderful.
Now go explore the site and ask questions.—Jihii