Here’s a conversation I’ve heard numerous times:
Journalist: ‘So can you assure us that there’s no risk to the public?’
Scientist: ‘I can’t say that. There’s some risk in everything, like crossing a road…’
PR adviser: (Quietly) ‘Doh!’
This summarises the problem of doing public relations for science; it’s compounded by the fact that so few journalists and reporters have a science background. So today’s top story on the BBC is a coup for CERN, the Swiss particle physics laboratory until now best known for being the place where Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web to help scientific researchers communicate and share knowledge.
It was a brave editorial decision by the BBC, though they needed to create a bit of ‘the end of the world is nigh’ hype based on the ‘miniscule’ chance of creating a black hole under Geneva. ‘The LHC is safe, and any suggestion that it might present a risk is pure fiction’ it says on the CERN website in a neat phrase that distinguishes science from science fiction.