However, a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers, published in the current issue (summer 2009) of Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, suggests otherwise.
The study, conducted by journalism professor Sharon Dunwoody, life sciences communication professor Dominique Brossard and graduate student Anthony Dudo, provides evidence that many mainstream scientists occasionally work with journalists and some do so routinely. And the interplay between scientists and journalists, say Brossard and Dunwoody, has been remarkably stable since the 1980s.
“By and large, scientists speak to journalists, they know it is important and they’re willing to do it again,” Dunwoody says. “The frequency with which scientists and journalists interact has been pretty stable over time.”
The findings, extracted from a survey of 1,200 researchers in the areas of epidemiology and stem cell research, two fields that experience extensive news media attention, contradict the widespread view in science that scientists are out of touch.
“We found relatively frequent interactions,” says Brossard, explaining that about one-third of the respondents claimed to have had up to five contacts with journalists during a three-year period, while another third of the sample said they experienced more than six contacts with reporters over three years. Only one-third of respondents reported having no contacts with journalists.
“The frequencies are definitely encouraging,” adds Brossard.
The proportion of scientists in the sample who interact with journalists, according to the Wisconsin researchers, is intriguingly similar to studies from the 1980s, as well as patterns identified in the 1990s. The new data imply that journalistic engagement of scientists over time is greater and more stable than “persistent, anecdotal cautionary tales would suggest,” Dunwoody, Brossard and Dudo write.
Another key insight from the data is that it is generally not the case that journalists focus their attention on scientific outliers. Instead, scientists who interact most frequently with reporters tend to be senior, highly productive researchers or administrators. “The notion that journalists concentrate on mavericks is not true,” says Dunwoody. “That’s an important pattern. What it says is that journalists are working mostly with successful mainstream scientists.”
The results of the new study are important because they chip away at the common perception among scientists that media coverage of science is flawed. “We don’t know if the interactions are, in fact, better,” says Dunwoody. “But scientists are eager participants. It reflects a more active role by one of the major players in the process.”
The new study, according to Dunwoody, indicates that although scientists may have a general perception that news media coverage of science is faulty, that perception does not extend to coverage of their own work. “They often view their own work as being covered well, but that doesn’t influence the larger perception.”
The involvement of scientists in active public communication is widely viewed as critical, especially when controversial issues are at play or important policy is being forged. Coverage of such things as stem cell research, infectious disease, nuclear power, nanotechnology and biotechnology frequently entails important information about human health and has economic and social implications that reach far beyond the scientific community.
“We need to keep in mind that most people learn about scientific topics through mass media and not informal channels like science museums,” says Brossard. “Hence, the necessity for scientists to engage journalists.”
Another key insight from the study is that the scientists who work with journalists perceive that they do so not for personal gain but because their participation can influence public understanding of science and the role of science in society. In short, appealing to scientists’ moral or ethical values may be a way to increase participation in the process of making news.
Finally, the study provides evidence that scientists who have been trained or otherwise briefed about how to work with journalists are more likely to engage reporters.
Terry Devitt | Newswise Science News
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy