The mass media is regularly used in this “age of information” to communicate science to the public. Interactions between science, policy, media and the public are complex, non-linear and dynamic: science and policy have shaped the way the media reports and also public understanding; meanwhile, journalism and public concern have also shaped continuing science and policy decisions.
It is clear that the media plays a strong role in putting select science issues on the public’s radar. Because of this, analysis has been conducted into which disciplines get media attention, how they are presented, and therefore “what the public know, think and feel” about science.
There appear to be 2 main ways the media attempt to communicate science to the public:
- that by making the public understand science, and scientific facts, they can make them support further development etc; and
- by relating science to other areas (politics, religion etc), the public garner a greater understanding and an increasingly critical perception of science and technology.
It appears that the later is a more effective method, and has caused the media to put science on the map in a big way in the last decade.
It is worth noting, and being critical of, the “agenda building” in science within the mass media. Scientists and Science-institutions have extended their effort to communicate with the media, including increases in personnel and resources in PR. It has gotten to the point where some scientists have admitted to using “misinformation” and spin to convince journalists to publish their stories. This also extends to other areas that use science (like the government). It is concerning for science communicators that this spin exists, as the factual accuracy of science in the public eye is important to the overall science literacy of the public, and their belief in science in general.
I am inclined to agree with Ben Goldacre’s opinion in the following video (Where is my jetpack!?) – but what do you think?
Schafer, M. S. (2011). Sources, characteristics and effects of mass media communications on science: A review of the literature, current trends and areas for future research. Sociology Compass, 5/6, 399-412.