I guess most of you have been to Naomi’s seminar about some scientists manipulating media to argue that climate change was not happening. Such skeptical articles can be very easily found in media. But why media pick those stories? What do they need?
We can find some answers from Schafer’s study (2011) on mass media communication on science. Schafer reviewed and concluded the source (agenda-builder) of the science stories in media, how do science journalists and media work, and characteristics of current media coverage of science.
The relation between science and media has changed. Science used to act as a superior role and media was like a transmitter, but now science has to be pitched to media, because people have too much to look at.
And within a more interactive context, not only scientists, or PR of science industries, but also non-science sources, such as politics, NGOs, are pitching science to media. Obviously they are using science for their own aims (like risk communication).
The question is — are these sources trustworthy? Here’s an interesting video about media source (a little bit long though).
Schafer’s study shows that media routine also help those biased stories get published. “A cancer-killer medicine is invented” and “AFL is going to have 1 year lockout”, which one could be on the front page? Science has a low priority in media, comparing with sports, entertainment, politics, etc.. Scientific importance does not necessarily lead to media attention.
Then the amount of science journalists is very limited in the industry. My girlfriend worked for the science and education column of a Shanghai daily newspaper for a while. They had a kind of database of all the stories written by reporters, then editors’ job was to pick stories from the database and fill the column. Most of those reporters and editors don’t have a science background.
Moreover, media treat science in their way. They may pick two articles with exactly different opinions upon one issue, to make controversy; they may pick an old finding was totally out of date, just to match a current issue; they may also frame and exaggerate the scientific message just to get attention. Media are always seeking for something BIG!
What do you think? What harm the credibility of media sources? Why media bias science? How can we help to make them understand each other?
pictures: http://hl-optics.com/prism.html; http://wallpaperdb.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/pink-floyd.html; http://www.cheezburger.com; photoshoped by Axl
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.