Media and Mediocrity
The neurotechnology industry, like other businesses, depends on an informed and enlightened press to spread its message. This is true for the trade press that covers technologies and markets, as well as the more general interest media such as newspapers, magazines, and television.
While there has not always been an overwhelming display of interest and understanding of our industry on the part of the lay press, we were impressed with the turnout—and the degree of inquisitiveness—during a press conference devoted to neuroprosthetics at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco [see conference report, p7]. By our count, over 100 journalists attended, and judging by the number and depth of questions they raised, there seemed to be a keen interest in technologies such as retinal implants, brain-computer interfaces, and implanted stimulation systems. Of course, many of the reporters in attendance were from foreign publications such as the London Times and the Financial Times, so they were relatively unburdened by more pressing stories such as the Anna Nicole corpse custody trial and Britney Spears’ new hairstyle, which captured the attention of most American media outlets at the time.
Still, if the level of questioning observed from reporters translates into meaningful coverage of this industry, this will be a positive development. Much of the credit for assembling the media for this event belongs to the AAAS press office, which for years has worked hard to keep science journalists informed. But the press conference participants, including Hunter Peckham from Case, John Donoghue from Brown, and Mark Humayun from USC, did an excellent job of explaining the benefits of their technologies in an understandable and compelling fashion.
Peckham brought one of the users of his implanted standing/transfer system, Jennifer French of the Neurotech Network, to demonstrate her device. As always, French’s explanation of the practical and psychological benefits of neuroprosthetics made for a powerful human interest story. Reporters had so many questions for the participants that the press conference had to be continued in a breakout room down the hall, where they listened intently to more detail about the devices for another hour.
In contrast to this event, we were somewhat disappointed with the business press’ reporting on the FDA Neurological Devices Panel’s assessment of the Neuronetics NeuroStar device for treating depression [see article, p1]. Most accounts highlighted the negative comments about NeuroStar’s efficacy, rather than noting the half-full nature of the trial’s success in many individuals with treatment-resistant depression.
This just points out one of the challenges confronting neurotech marketing professionals in the years ahead. We cannot expect the government to show us profound understanding if the public is still in the dark.
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