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Oh dear! A scientist who only speaks geek.

It’s always good to laugh and one interview on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme this morning certainly caused me to guffaw.

Methane on Mars could be evidence of ‘life’ on the red planet

It is a classic and rather funny example of scientist Sushil Atreya, a Professor with the Curiosity programme, refusing to compromise and explain the possibility of life on Mars in layman’s language – and a journalist, Sarah Montague, working her socks off to try and help him.

This interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was broadcast at about 8.30 a.m. – probably one of the most valuable and influential slots (peak audience) on one of the most valuable and influential programmes in the UK.  Unfortunately the scientist in question does not care about PR – his own, the university’s or the space programme’s – he is just answering questions as he would for a rather dim and uninteresting student. Everything he says is coherent and undoubtedly accurate but totally inappropriate for the audience.

I am sure he is a very nice and clever man but boy, does he need media training!

About Lindsay Williams

Prior to founding her communications training agency, The Media Coach, Lindsay Williams worked as a journalist from 1983. She specialised in financial and business journalism since 1991. After thirteen years in the BBC with local radio, regional television, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live, she moved to Reuters Financial Television as Deputy Programme Editor. Working freelance from 1998, she was contracted in a variety of roles including as an executive producer for Bloomberg television delivering half hour profiles of Chief Executives, as a producer with Sky Business Unit and at CNBC. She has had articles published in Sunday Business, The Business, The Times and in specialist magazines such as Companies & Finance and Impact. For the majority of her journalism career she specialised in reporting business and finance. Lindsay Williams hosts a range of bespoke communication skills courses for The Media Coach which include Media Training, Presentation Training, Crisis Media Training and Message Building.

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  1. Robert Matthews
    Robert Matthews says:

    Seems to me this is an example of an expert coming on to a radio show with the attitude “Pfff, they’re just journalists – how hard can it be ?!”

    At the very least, he should have had a clear explanation of the reason for the excitement (the changing methane levels), and also prepped for attempts to bounce him into over-claiming, with a rejoinder something like “Methane is certainly suggestive of the existence of life on Mars, but far from proof”.

    As it was, he bounced _himself_ into a ludicrous statement. He mentioned two possible sources of the methane – living organisms or “organic rain” from elsewhere – and then ended the interview (clearly sensing he’d been dull) by claiming that this means there’s a 50:50 chance of the methane coming from living organisms.

    That’s an embarrassingly stupid line of reasoning – but shows what one can end up saying without adequate prep.

    Even with prep, chances are he would have come across as lacklustre. He would have benefited from tapping into the enthusiasm of Sarah M’s delivery to inject some energy into his own.

    Overall, a good example of the dangers of doing interviews in “expert mode”.

    Reply

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