Being mistrusted by scientists

Someone once said to me that a journalist´s knowledge is as vast as an ocean, but only five centimeters deep.

I got a little angry when I heard that phrase, but when I thought about the reality of the people who works for the media in developing countries, for example here in Guatemala, it could be true. Many Guatemalan journalists must cover a lot of different issues and because of the pressure of deadlines they do not have the time to investigate.

Besides, at universities there is still not a specific journalistic training in economy, health, sports, or science reporting. We learn and get experience about specialized fields on the job, and because of our personal interest in a subject.

That is why we receive critique from readers and experts in a specific field. They complain about the mistakes we sometimes make when writing about their specializations.

For example, the other day I asked for an interview to a well known doctor who is an expert on HIV. I wanted information about a specific study he did. Without shame he told me that he didn’t want to give me information. He refused to help me despite knowing my experience in the scientific field and that I have covered some activities from the HIV unit he established, about which I have never received a complaint.
He told me that Guatemalan journalists do not understand about science or statistics and that is a big problem. So, as he did not want to get into trouble with the other authors of the scientific study, in case I would make a mistake or misinterpreted the facts, he would prefer not to give me the interview. Also, he told me that his decision was linked to past bad experiences with other journalists.

Despite being disappointed, his answer motivates me to be better each day. I do not want other colleagues to experience a situation like this because of me.

Of course not all scientists are like this, because I know other very good scientists who have a different attitude towards the media.

Being a journalist in Guatemala is a big challenge, especially a science journalist. Not only because of the precision and other abilities a reporter needs to report on that field, but also because we have to build a big net of confidence around the scientific community in order to get first hand information.

We cannot give up. The future is in our hands.