It can also be very far from cut-and-dried. I spent 10 years in a News room as a science journalist followed by two in the media unit of a University, where my brief was to "get the university's research into the international media" followed by six years producing science stories for the Australia Network.

The kinds of science stories that I covered were pretty-well exactly the same in each case, and involved ferreting out who was doing what of interest and significance and writing it up or filming and editing it in a way that (I hoped) would be interesting enough to get media inclusion.

Whether I was doing it for TV or the University, in each case I would either caption the scientist or describe them according to the university/CRC/Industry they belonged to and (although it is much harder in a news story) include the funding agency where it was relevant.

I like Niall's descriptor which is to distinguish between science journalism and science PR by who is paying the salary, and the source/funding of research should make that clear, but increasingly the funding of scientific research involves corporate bodies, either on their own or in conjunction with universities, and we surely want to know about and help to publicise good science, whoever funds it, as long as it is clear who that is and there is nothing elsde dodgy (like MRs for scam health treatments purporting to be from scientific institutions that are, in reality, bogus fronts for the shysters who profit from the sales of their crap products).

I am more concerned with other things (not meaning Amanda's missive), like the announcement of funding to undertake research which rests for its news value on the discovery that "may" emerge one day rather than actual findings of significance from research well done. We see many more of these speculative MRs these days, dressed up as achievement when they are really two or three steps away from having reportable findings. How many reports of 'cutting-edge', 'world-leading' 'breakthroughs' have you read that were all about promise and contained nothing of successful achievement? How many of these research efforts vanished with nothing significant to report in the way of discoveries?

These releases ride high on sensational descriptions, so they get used even though the research has yet to produce anything and may never do so, but they push out of the media less hyperbolic accounts of solid achievement, and our science communication is the poorer for it.

Dr Rob Morrison
Phone: (08) 8339 3790
Fax: (08)8339 6272

From: ASC-list <> on behalf of Lamberts Rod <>
Sent: Thursday, 14 November 2013 12:28 PM
To: Niall Byrne
Cc:; Charles Willock
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Science, or Persuasion? (was: [ASC-media] New research project to produce salinity tolerant crops)
I have to agree with Niall on this. 

I’m not at all convinced by arguments that feature variations of the default setting: ‘corporate = evil’, nor would I favour censoring comm’s based on a proscriptive set of values about the subjective worthiness of organisations involved in the science. 

As for spin, PR, polemic, etc., such communiqués still frequently represent examples of science communication worth sharing, considering and discussing among interests folks. The fact they may have dodgy science or represent motivations with which we are uncomfortable seems to me even more of a reason to share, discuss, and perhaps expose. And anyway, I suspect that ASC members are well and truly capable of recognising science-related spin, PR or polemic. 



On 14 Nov 2013, at 12:32 pm, Niall Byrne <> wrote:

I don't see any problem with Amanda's media release.

She says in the first line that the work is funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation. That means roughly 50% government money and 50% grain farmer funding through their levy funds.

And the Centre itself is co-funded by the ARC, the GRDC with support from the South Australian government.

She describes this as a project to identify how bread wheat and barley can tolerate saline soils. The results of that could be applied via conventional breeding, modification of wheat genes or insertion of genes from elsewhere, or in all sorts of other ways.

The release is clear and transparent.

I do have a problem with Charles' idea that as soon as business is involved it's not science. I don't think I'd want to be part of an ASC that worked the way he's suggesting.


Niall Byrne
Science in Public    
0417 131 977,
Twitter scienceinpublic
Full contact details at

-----Original Message-----
From: ASC-list [] On Behalf Of Charles Willock
Sent: Thursday, 14 November 2013 3:09 AM
To: Amanda Hudswell
Cc:; Charles Willock
Subject: [ASC-list] Science, or Persuasion? (was: [ASC-media] New research project to produce salinity tolerant crops)

Hi Amanda/All,

Amanda:  This isn't an attack on your integrity nor your writing style but your media release yesterday gives yet another example of what seems to be an unresolved problem for the ASC - that of "corporate" rather than science communication.

All:  I guess the obvious question is:

 Is this a GM project, or a non-GM project?  (Afterall, The GRDC/
 Monsanto seem to be putting a substantial amount of money into it.)

>From the point of view of communication of science there seems to be a difference between research into the science of plants (for example understanding their genetic make-up - and using that understanding to grow better crops) and "corporate" science in which the knowledge is used to genetically modify crops and market them as fast as you can.

So to the issue of ASC communication:

The language used in each case is different.  Normally, if one is looking at "corporate science" media releases, the name of the corporation features prominently - as does the name of the technology.
However, where the name of the corporation is problematic (eg Monsanto) that needs to be elided.  Likewise if the techology (GM) is somewhat controversial, then best to conceal that too ... and talk in terms of opportunities and product attributes rather than techologies.  This is one means of shifting that particular Overton window for the public
- but it is not necessarily about science - often it is about persuasion and sometimes about manipulation.  Is it really appropriate for the ASC to host that sort of communication?

We have seen with the recent Catalyst issue the problems that can arise when money driven opinions seem to decide policy - or for that matter when they question it.  

Is it more appropriate that Australian Science Communicators continue to communicate science in an open scientific way or, if there is a demand for it, would it be more appropriate for ASC to create another, separate, organisation which deals with PR?  (Some kind of self-selected accuracy in labelling I guess.)  


On Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 01:41:02PM +0000, Amanda Hudswell wrote:
Media Release

Adelaide, Australia, 14 November 2013

New research project to produce salinity tolerant crops

A new research project announced today will identify how bread wheat and barley can tolerate saline soils. The project, being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation will deliver resources to breeders for novel salinity tolerance traits for incorporation into their breeding programs. Salinity is estimated to affect approximately two thirds of Australian agricultural land.

The project utilises knowledge gained through past research projects and will identify the next generation of salinity tolerance traits to help farmers.

'Importantly, experiments will not only take place in the greenhouse but also in the field to validate the effects of these salinity tolerance traits on grain yield,' said Dr Stuart Roy, Program Leader at the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. 'The researchers will develop markers for novel salinity tolerance traits and then test the effect of these traits in field trials in SA, WA and ACT.'

The project, worth $2.5million over three years, is a collaboration between the ACPFG, the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide, CSIRO Plant Industry (Canberra) and the University of Western Australia (Perth).

'Introducing salinity tolerance in cereals is not straightforward as salinity causes multiple problems for the plant,' said Dr Matthew Gilliham, project investigator from the University of Adelaide. 'When salts build up in the soil they reduce plant growth and make it harder for plants to take up water. Salts can also accumulate in the leaves and damage the ability to plants to harvest sunlight. Our project is about discovering the best of what nature offers so we can offer that to our farmers.'

The collaboration between researchers across Australia provides a significant opportunity to make the optimal use of resources and available expertise to accelerate the development of salinity-tolerant crops.

For media contact, interviews and images:
Dr Stuart Roy
Program Leader

Ph: +61 83 13 71 59<>

Dr Matthew Gilliham
School of Agriculture, Food and Wine
University of Adelaide
Mob: + 61 431 663 614<

About ACPFG:
The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics (ACPFG), focuses on improving the resistance of crops to stresses that impact agriculture in Australia, including drought, salinity, high or low temperatures and mineral deficiencies or toxicities. These stresses, known as abiotic stresses, are a major cause of cereal crop yield and quality loss throughout the world. ACPFG's head office is at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus. Visit<> for more information.

About University of Adelaide:
The University of Adelaide is one of Australia's leading research-intensive universities and is consistently ranked among the top 1% of universities in the world.

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