"The media need superheroes in science just as in every sphere of life,
but there is really a continuous range of abilities with no clear dividing line."

-Stephen Hawking.

It is important to be aware that the way the media presents an issue does not automatically reflect the true nature of the issue - you must be wary of what you read!

In the field of Synthetic Biology, and indeed in all scientific fields, there are different media streams by which ideas or issues are reported. Academic media (such as peer-reviewed Journals) are targeted toward scientists, and are often written in technical language. This can make these papers difficult to interpret for the lay-person. Additionally, published papers usually reviewed by peers before publication. Often conclusions made in papers show ‘correlations’ that may be misinterpreted by popular media to mean absolute causation.

The reporting of a story by the popular media needs to be critically evaluated and not blindly accepted. Popular sources such as the news and internet blogs present scientific discoveries in easy-to-consume formats, and may lose meaning during translation. Additionally, you must always consider the personal agenda of the writer.


The news and blogs like IFL Science, which present scientific discoveries in an easy-to-consume format.

  • How are they framing the issue?
  • What bias is present in the media and why?
  • Are the facts being misinterpreted or misrepresented?
  • Are they using reputable sources?
  • Who is credible and qualified to talk about these issues?
  • Is anecdotal evidence used as opposed to scientific evidence?
  • Is the representation of this technology fair?
  • Are arguments based on facts and knowledge or fear and apprehension?
  • Are there more than two sides to the argument and are the milder views being ignored for more entertaining ones?
  • Do the different perspectives deserve equal weighting when you come to making up your mind, or is there a 'false balance'?
  • Does the author imply you are ignorant or immoral if you disagree with them?



Popular science blog report about whether it is fair to show two sides of every story


These may appear to be trustworthy sources based on legitimate developments. For example, University-affiliated or student-run news web pages.

  • Is the author a scientist or expert, and if not, does the author have a decent understanding about the topic?
  • Is it a well-researched piece?
  • Is the issue/research explained clearly?
  • Does the personal opinion of the writer matter?
  • Does the title reflect the content?
  • Are they advertising or selling their academy, institution or school rather than communicating research?


Published papers usually undergo stringent peer-review checks before publication, but may be misinterpreted by popular media because they are highly technical

  • Is the method used appropriate to the task?
  • Who regulates the research? Are they up to the task?
  • Does the study have a representative sample?
  • Do the conclusions reflect your level of confidence in the results?
  • Is their research based on sound biological ideas?
  • Was the author of the paper involved in the research?
  • Has it been peer reviewed?
  • Are the other papers in the publication of a good standard?
  • Does the author have any conflicts of interest?
  • Has the work been retracted or the author discredited? 
  • Have the results been disproven by other studies?
  • Have the results and method been duplicated by othersand the same results obtained?
  • What was the goal of the research?
  • Was the hypothesis accepted or rejected?
  • Where could this research lead?


Communicating Science

Article investigating media in Synthetic Biology