Who is shaping you opinion?

If you are into nanotechnology, which medium will be your first choice to get the news about it? Newspaper or Internet?

A study explored the coverage and thematic content between newspaper and online media (including Google New search and Google Blog search) on nanotechnology (Cacciatore et al., 2012), and here are several main findings:

  •  The newspaper and Google News coverage of nanotechnology has stared to decline, while Google Blog coverage is still growing.
  • Newspaper readers are more likely to encounter health related content about nanotechnology, while online readers are more likely to see environment related topic.
  • Consumer’s preferred information sources will shape the different opinions upon related issues.

Different media have different agendas, like how we write this blog is definitely different from how we write a news article, from topics to writing styles. From the study, the circulation of the topic “nanotechnology” are more similar between newspaper and Google News, but dramatically different in Google Blog.

We often think that the internet has everything; it offer news as well as background, comments, related stories, and multimedia sources. However, have you ever realized that all that you’re reading are your choices?

This study discovered that online coverage of nanotechnology is more diverse on thematic content.  The difference amount between health, environment, business, regulation, and research are not so dramatic, which means internet users are exposing to more various content than to newspaper.

But that doesn’t always lead to “heterogeneous perceptions”. We are selecting the content! Studies showed that people are more likely to read something support their previous opinions (Iyengar and Hahn, 2009; Sunstein, 2001). And for blog writers – like us- often link to other articles that support our messages, which increases the possibility of getting information of limited aspects.

Recently, Google changed their privacy policies, and going to alter the search engine. The most used search engine is going to come up the results more significantly based on your search history and geographical location. While we can get more feeds of our interest, we are missing the diversity.

This TED talk has more profound thought on personalizing online news feed:

By contrast, newspapers are more competent to draw attention to a specific aspect of an issue. Put in another word, they are more likely to shape a clear opinion on a broad topic.

So based on your personal experience, which medium has more influence on shaping your opinion? Do you feel your opinion are shaped by media, or by your own selections?


Cacciatore, M. A., Anderson, A. A., Choi, D.-H., Brossard, D., Scheufele, D. A., Liang, X., . . . Dudo, A. (2012). Coverage of emerging technologies: A comparison between print and online media. New Media & Society, 14(6), 1039-1059.

Iyengar S and Hahn K (2009) Red media, blue media: Evidence of ideological selectivity in media use. Journal of Communication 59: 19–39.

Sunstein C (2001) Republic.com. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


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.


Do you smoke? Or do you know someone who smokes?

I personally have seen so many friends fall into the nicotine trap and just cannot seem to get out of it.
Or perhaps, they do not want to get out of it?

Either way, I’m sure every single one of them have seen an anti-smoking poster, advert, or video. I mean, even the cigarette boxes have ghastly images on them! So, do you think all these methods of discouraging smoking are actually working?


   (Credits: Thailand Health Promotion Institute)

This article by Park, Kim and Hove talks about a study that was done recently in 2010. It examines 934 anti-smoking video clips on YouTube for these characteristics:

a) Message Sensation Value (MSV) – structural and content features, and sensory, affective and arousal ‘responses’ to message features. (i.e. High MSV messages may lead to persuasion.)

b) Three types of message appeal – threat, social and humour.

The findings show that – 
(1) Anti-smoking messages are prevalent on YouTube,
(2) MSV levels of online anti-smoking videos are relatively low compared to that of televised anti-smoking messages,
(3) Threat appeals are the videos’ predominant message strategy,
(4) Message characteristics (persuasiveness and impact of message) are related to viewer reach and viewer preference.

YouTube is especially popular among youth and thus the business world sees it as an ideal platform for advertising and marketing to reach that target audience and influence their behavior. YouTube also provides data on number of viewers, number of comments and viewer ratings. This can be considered an interactive mechanism that is exclusive to video-sharing Web-sites – traditional media channels such as television and print do not have such an advantage.

However, surprisingly, the number of prosmoking videos outnumbered anti-smoking videos on YouTube. This probably reflects how much control we have over what is being posted up and who watches what video – not very much control at all. Along with social media like Facebook and Twitter now, videos could go viral very easily; it’s actually quite scary.  

Threat appeals typically showed audiences the health dangers, risks and consequences of smoking such as mouth cancer, rotten lungs, dying patients. Humour should be used discretely or otherwise, not used at all as it nullifies the intended intensity and severity of the key message.

Here, watch this short anti-smoking advertisement that the Thais have come up with. Do you think that it is effective? Do you think there are any ethical issues with using children such videos?


Reference: Park, HAN.-J., Kim, K., & Hove, T. (2010). Content analysis of anti smoking videos on YouTube: message sensation value, message appeals, and their relationship with viewer responses. Heath Education Research, 25(6), 1085-1099.

Do you smoke? O…

By Jessica Ho

Scientists are from Mars; Media are from Venus

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.htmlhttp://wallpaperdb.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/pink-floyd.htmlhttp://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.

Strength in Numbers?

“The boat dubbed the Vacumn Cleaner of the Sea is due to arrive in Australian waters next week” was the opening line from Triple J’s HACK programme where the host discussed the possible environmental impacts of a new fishing boat coming Down Under.

HACK is broadcast on the national youth radio station and as its audience is predominately students so it inevitably has a left-wing bias. Nevertheless it does a pretty good job at presenting both sides (I think) in the manner technically required by a journalist. They interviewed a representative defending the science and a representative defending the environmentalists.

Somewhere along the line someone decided communication is more effective if the audience also get a chance to have their say.

“scientists and fishing authorities say the trawler can safely and sustainibly fish in our seas. What do you think? … A group of scientists say they’re not concerned about the vessel’s 18,000 tonne quota of fish. Do you agree with them?”

Five listeners call in at the end of the episode to have their say – all opposed to the scientists. So now instead of appearing as a 1/1 split there are now five other callers having an equal say – all opposed to the scientists so it looks more like 1/7. The more people who are added, the smaller the impact of the actual data. The balance of persuassion is really tipped towards the environmentalists – even though the representative from Greenpeace offered no evidence to support his case when he was asked.

Expressing their opinions engages people but the way it is used by HACK (I think) contributes to false balance. False balance is when the media presents two sides of an issue with equal weight even though one side is not based on empirical evidence or is a marginalised minority of the scientific community. The issue is framed as a ‘debate’ because…well controversy sells. However, the ‘debate’ is not actually about the science, it is about the effect that science can have on ideology.

I think in this case including the audience participation has made the issue of false balance worse by overrepresenting one side. Mostly because the scientists don’t have a chance to respond.

What do you think? Is HACK creating a false-balance to appeal to their left-wing audience? Does it make sense that callers are asked if they ‘agree’ with scientists when only one side is based one empirical data? Does engouraging more audience feedback simply drown out the science more?

By Dangerous

Flower Power

Here, imagine yourself in this scenario:

HIP HIP HOORAY! It’s Valentine’s Day!!
Your partner decides to be romantic and buy you a huge bouquet of your favourite flowers. (Guys, please pretend!)


You are super impressed and quickly place the flowers in a vase of water.
Now, the big question is – what should you add to the water to make the flowers last longer?

You take a good look around the house and finally found a couple of choices: 

a)    Bleach
b)    Sugar
c)    That sachet of “cut flower food” that florists provide
d)    Vinegar
e)    Aspirin

Hmmm. Have you made your choice?

Well, if you’ve picked any one of the options provided, your flowers will most likely survive longer than it normally would!

Are you surprised? During the recent National Science Week (NSW), students from Newton Moore Senior High School in Bunbury did a little experiment on this. They were involved in the NSW Science Fair where each participant had produced a scientific report and one of them (unfortunately not the winner) stated that the flowers would last longest if bleach was added to the water.

So the winners (in terms of longest-lasting flowers) are…

1st – Bleach

2nd – Vinegar

3rd – That sachet of ‘cut flower food’ (polysaccharide gel, such as gellan gum)

4th – Aspirin

5th – Sugar

So, why all these ingredients? The main rationale behind these ingredients is that: 

  1. They prevent bacteria and fungal growth
  2. Having a little ‘sugar’ in the water will provide a source of ‘food’.

Thus, many experienced people and websites will recommend adding a combination of a few of the ingredients. (Have a look here.) Of course, there has been debate that different flowers/plants require different ingredients.

I first heard this interesting piece of information during my interview with Professor Lyn Beazley, the Chief Scientist of Western Australia. I was surprised that I wasn’t familiar with simple science like this, and realized that it all boiled down to how well science has been communicated to the public.

People may know the “solutions” to daily life problems, but do they actually know and understand the simple science behind it? What else do you think can be done to promote science?


By Jessica Ho

If you’re hotter than me, does that make me cooler than you?


The Day After Tomorrow. Where will you be?

The movie The Day After Tomorrow created a huge hoo-ha when it first appeared in the theatres. The show not only generated huge responses from the general public such as moviegoers, but also to climatologists
 and other scientists, politicians and advocacy groups.

In the article, ‘Before and after the day after tomorrow: A U.S. study of climate change risk perception’, Leiserowitz examines the following questions behind the movie,

‘What impact, if any, did the film have on public risk perceptions and conceptual models of climate change?’

‘Did the film make moviegoers more or less willing to take personal actions to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions?’

‘Did it change their political priorities or voting intentions?’

Public risk perception of global climate change

Even though the movie might have exaggerated events that lacked scientific truth, it provided an avenue that allowed climatologist to explain the different concepts and created awareness about global warming.

It gave the audience a “teachable moment”, seen by climatologist as ‘
an opportunity to not only critique the film but to more constructively educate the public about climate change’. The movie was also a contributing factor and a strong influence towards the watcher’s awareness and attitude towards global warming, allowing them to perceive global warming as a threat.

Conceptual Models of climate change

The movie gave the audience a brief overview that there is a threshold towards the climate system, that the climate system is only substantial and stable within certain limits before collapsing.

Climate change is still perceived as an unpredictable system, especially since it is based on the audience’s own experience and understanding of the unpredictable daily weather. Apart from that, they are unable to predict any further consequences, and unable to depicter what would happen next.

Behavioral intentions

Individuals are seen to be more willing to make their stand on reducing the cause towards global warming. They show interest in doing their part by either reducing one’s own emission, willingness to join an organization to promote global warming awareness, taking up a stand to politicians, and spreading the importance of conservation via word of mouth. ‘The more important an issue is perceived to be, the more people talk about it, which in turn leads to an increase in perceived issue importance, and so on, in a positive feedback loop’.

Politics and voting

Moviegoers are more prone to have a higher level of worry and concern about global warming after watching the movie. They also acquired the knowledge about the drastic measures global warming can cause. The movie also encouraged audiences to be more involved with the issue of climate change, and be engaged in social, personal and political actions. Thus, audiences are more skeptical about the people they want to run the government. Items such as whether the government are helping the environment, or trusting the government to tell them the truth, became a factor.

The influence of the movie towards audiences

Impact on public risk perceptions? Check.

Impact on conceptual models of climate change? Check.

Individual actions to address global warming? Check.

Influence towards voters preferences? Check.


Apart from the scientific accuracy and 
political implications of the film aside, I personally felt that The Day After Tomorrow was a good movie. It is a Hollywood Blockbuster ‘popcorn movie’ after all, with exceptional good visual effects. Two thumbs up to the filmmakers for sparking the interest of such a huge audience!

Have you watched the movie The Day After Tomorrow? If so, how did the movie create an impact on you? Did it change your perception about the consequences of global warming and climate change? If you hadn’t watched it, does the thought of this huge catastrophic event (fingers crossing that it remains fictional) spark your interest into helping society with recycling and saving the environment?


Leiserowitz, A. (2004). Before and after the day after tomorrow: A U.S. study of climate change risk perception. Environment, 46(9), 22-37. Available at <http://environment.yale.edu/leiserowitz/pubs.html>

The Day After Tomorrow Photo. Available at <http://www.popartuk.com/g/l/lglg0078.jpg>

Science communication isn’t science communication when there’s no science being communicated…

Dawkins, for example, argues as a scientist that religion is comparable to a mental virus that can be explained through evolution, that religious education is a form of child abuse, that religious believers are delusional, and that in contrast, atheists are representative of a healthy, proscience mind.”


This quote, taken from ‘What’s next for science communication? promising directions and lingering distractions’, highlights the need for science communication to take a more scientific approach in more modern medias. the above quote is specifically an example of how one scientist can promote the division between the scientific community and the lay public with his own agenda. 


Essentially it’s ‘what not to do’ in science communication.



The article looked at the way framing can be used by scientists to communicate their work. framing is described as an ‘unavoidable reality’, and so it can be used to motivate and generate interest in the general public. Specifically the article looked at the ‘future of science communication and the way we can use framing in new forms, such as digital media (e.g. BLOGS.). The use of modern media is undeniably a powerful force shaping the publics opinion.






The article looks at how the correct use of framing can help the science communication process. So instead of fuelling debate and isolation of the scientific community- like the above quote does so well- we could use certain frames. the above quote was to promote the teaching of evolution in schools (more of an attack on religion really), a more successful method could be using a ‘social progress’ frame. To show how evolution is the modern ‘building blocks for advances in science and agriculture’. 


More frames can be seen below, and each could be used to present certain scientific topics to the community:



The future of science communication relies on using more modern forms of media (like our blogs) and to really promote scientific knowledge to the public a more scientific approach needs to be taken (tell the ACTUAL SCIENCE). To help in understanding this ‘actual science’ a public dialogue should occur to encourage public participation. 


Finally, to get a public dialogue and participation it is important to connect to public values… otherwise why should anyone care?


Do you think this is true? my personal response to this last notion is that despite the importance of connecting to public values it is also important to create and shape public values. Not to the extent that we are ‘telling people how to think’ but definitely to promote certain important scientific concepts that may become important to the public through our communication. What are your views on this? is it unethical? is it essential?  



  • Matthew C. Nisbet and Dietram A. Scheufele ‘WHAT’S NEXT FOR SCIENCE COMMUNICATION? PROMISING DIRECTIONS AND LINGERING DISTRACTIONS’ American Journal of Botany 96(10): 1767–1778. 2009.


By zoesimmons

Limiting Media Hype – is it the responsibility of the scientist or the journalist?

Illustration by David Parkins, Nature

Science Communication faces stiff challenges. This is partly because of the inherent public distrust of science to begin with, but mainly because it’s not always easy to be both factual AND publicly engaging at the same time.

If I asked you to jot down one of the main shortcomings of the media in general, what would it be?

I’m going to pretend you said sensationalisation. I know that’s what you meant to say after all.

The Nature Commentary, Science Communication Reconsidered (Bubela et. al. 2009) points out that over-dramatising scientific breakthroughs is a cycle and the scientists themselves do in fact play a role.

The ‘Cycle of Hype’

Like most vicious cycles, it is hard to determine where the starting point is. I am going to start with the media.

Journalism is the fasting dying profession in Australia and the situation is no doubt just as dire in the rest of the world. If the media isn’t profit driven, they’re simply not going to survive. The result is an enormous amount of pressure on journalists to present cutting-edge newsworthy events.

But the journalists aren’t the only ones facing pressures. Research Institutions too are compelling scientists to boost their profiles, get recognition for their work and ultimately secure additional funding.

What if their work just doesn’t sound break-through enough for the general public? What if it’s too complex or abstract? 

Photo by Jacquelyn Gill.

As scientists, we know that most research is merely one piece in a very complex jigsaw puzzle. How do you explain that to a journalist?

If there are no immediate implications for their readers, is it newsworthy enough to go to print?

Researchers and journalists need to work together to find a common angle that is interesting to the general public. To do this, the scientist needs to have a very clear idea of who the publication is target at and the journalist needs to understand what the results actually mean without stretching the truth too much.

Lets pretend we live in a world where there is time to do this. Does the responsibility ultimately lie with the scientist or the journalist to ensure that the information is accurately portrayed? Why?

Continue reading

By djasudasen

Dissecting science blogs

Just like we learnt to dissect frogs in biology to learn what frogs are all about, here we dissect science blogs and find out what is happening within this sphere of cyberspace.

lets dissect!!

What is a science blog?

Who writes them? Who reads them?

What are the forms of communication used: facts / reports / opinion / critique / others?

How effective is it in public engagement with science?

All these questions are explored in an article which sampled 174 posts and 1409 comments from 11 science blogs.

Among the things in this study that stood out for me were:

Science blog readers: mostly from the scientific community or who have “some relationship with science”. This indicates there’s not as much public engagement in the form of non-scientists.

Too heterogeneous: wide variety of  “writing and authoring models” that does not enable it to be labelled a genre on its own. The only similarity is some science content. This variety of “forms and content” becomes a challenge instead of an opportunity for public engagement in science.

“Water cooler” environment: these blogs are often a forum for light banter and trivial evaluations and arguments, more of a conversation you have with mates at a water cooler. Also presents a sense of community where a stranger (new person) may feel awkward to join.

mates chat at a water cooler, newbie feels out of place

Integrated effort: to make science blogs more effective the author suggests joint effort by scientists, journalists, educators and other stakeholders to encourage more meaningful participation

Why would you visit a science blog?

Apparently if you are not a scientist or have no background in science you most likely have never visited a science blog! Do you agree?

And if you are one, your visits to a science blog would be more for entertainment than for rational discussions, what do you think?

**would like to say a quick welcome to Tom (from Fitchburg, MA) 🙂 i wrote up this post way before i got to know you are following our class blog and what a coincidence that your blog is called “dissectingpublicscience.com”!!


Kouper, I. (2010) Science blogs and public engagement with science: practices, challenges and opportunities. Journal of Science Communication, 9(1): 1-10.

Frog image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Red_eyed_tree_frog_dissection.jpg

Water cooler image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mainman/2799055684/?reg=1&src=sharev3