Science TV News Exposure Predicts Science Beliefs

The media has played substantial part in exposing science to the world. The television shows, programs and movies had both been good and bad at widely disseminating science and also distorting the truth.

Science can be just plain facts as well as debunking. A communication research conducted by Hwang and Southwell (2009) on the Science TV exposure, revealed the

“evidence that stories from a well-funded TV science news project specifically intended to encourage people to view science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as a realm relevant to their everyday lives in fact positively predicts such beliefs, even after controlling for potential explanations for spuriousness.”


Since TV can be influential at this age too, there are two key questions, as science communicators needless to say, should always be cautious of while interacting, collaborating with people and collecting information.

  1. How do you know who to trust?
  2. What is your source?

Today, it takes only a few hours and and any debunking is always belated. Long gone the days when journalists had to take a phone, make appointments and interviews with his or her own eyes.This had changed to a click of the mouse and information is available. A journalist would spend most of his or her time on the internet.

Whilst on this sometimes the science is not well represented and reported accurately because of various reasons.

  1. The reporter collected wrong information
  2. The writer misinterpreted due to lack of science background knowledge.
  3. Due to vague assumptions.

So how can these be corrected? It goes back to answering the first two questions, as a communicator. Nonetheless, the information trail is like the ‘Chinese whisper’ that as the information is passed along the trail, it can get distorted, misunderstood or intentionally misrepresented. Sometimes just because everyone is saying something about an issue, it doesn’t mean it is always true.

This video further highlights how communication  is not represented well by a team. What challenges are there for a science communicator? Do you think we have a role to play?


Hwang, Y., & Southwell, B. G. (2009). Science TV news exposure predicts science beliefs. Communication Research, 36(5), 724-742.


3 comments on “Science TV News Exposure Predicts Science Beliefs

  1. It is inevitable that information about science related subjects in the media is not always completely true. TV shows need funding to go on air and the funding party may have a vested interest in the show which could present a biased view. Also some facts may be “hidden” while other facts emphasized. These may be presented as seemed necessary towards the targeted audience and desired outcomes.
    So, as a science communicator it would be good to build up our credibility by ensuring we always refer to credible sources of information and keep ourselves updated on recent developments, in spite of the limitations we may have. It may be helpful, in my opinion, to have a general credibility and also have a specific expertise for a certain field. Verifying scientific information before communicating it is also important, lest we appear to be emotional instead of rational about an issue related to science.

  2. While media can be a good means of communication, what is exposed may not always be the truth. So yes, I agree with you Nosy9, that as science communicators, sources credibility must be maintained.
    Scientific information are not only educational, it can mean a matter of life and death. So it has be true and rational and not based on emotions, fame or time.

  3. Although personally I’m pessimistic at media most time, but I think “true” science still can be effectively communicated. We are always surprised by a wrong scientific information going viral, but why not a valuable information? I believe we are not only “thrilled” by a wrong message.
    So for science communicator, what we have to do is to fit our information to the media ecosystem. That doesn’t mean that we have to make it wrong, or intend to create controversy. “The medium is message” (Marshall McLuhan), and it’s even a “metaphor” (Neil Postman). The hard thing is how we treat media is different from how we treat science. So how to treat the science on media? That’s what we need to think about.

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