Journalists and/or their editors appear to avoid science topics and journalists have the reputation of being largely unequipped to handle medical science, environmental science, or any science, in ways that do not distort, misrepresent or misunderstand the science and that do not promote a continuing feud with scientists. Nurse & Tooze (2000) contend that the result of this has been a generally low quality of debate about science issues and increased public anxiety. Low levels of understanding are the outcome of the public, the media, politicians and other opinion-formers having little idea of how science is done and how scientific knowledge is advanced, they argue. Although a convenient solution to this problem is seen in the training of specialist science journalists, such an apparent solution is impractical and, indeed, probably unsuitable. A better solution would seem to be to prepare all journalism trainees for the inevitable encounters with science and technology and especially the issues surrounding ever more contentious developments. This paper sets out to address the central question of whether generalist journalists can be better equipped to deal successfully with science writing and reporting and whether this can be achieved in their normal tertiary education in journalism. It does this in two ways: First, it looks at students' survey responses to a spectrum of questions about science, science in the news and their knowledge of basic scientific concepts to explore the potential of journalism students to cover science matters. Then it examines the perceived quality of journalism students' writing in a survey of source scientists. The conclusion drawn from this is that most journalism students are quite capable performing the task well.
Australian Studies in Journalism Vol. -, Issue 14, p. 41-60