We examine the contention that sufficiently well-informed mass media coverage of scientific and technological issues contributes toward the democratic process by enhancing citizens’ ability to debate and make informed decisions about such issues. Influences upon media science communication which call this model into question are addressed. Miller’s model of the circuit of mass communication frames our analysis of a single news story: Scientist and environmentalist, James Lovelock’s 2004 newspaper article which started a new phase of discussion on UK energy policy by suggesting that citizens accept the increased use of nuclear power now to mitigate worsening global warming in the future. Several factors which affect the quality of scientific information appearing in the article are examined: the use of media ‘news values’ in structuring the text; the ‘mediation’ of salient facts by Lovelock; recognition that a direct influence on political policy making is possible; and the effect of Lovelock’s scientific authority. We conclude that media demand for news value in its science reporting coupled with the various agendas of experts engaged in interpreting the issues make it impossible for citizens to form balanced judgements on scientific and technical issues based on the quality of information received from the mass media.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

“The only green solution”
Science, mass media & the uk energy debate

Mark Brake   Centre for Astronomy and Science Education, University of Glamorgan, UK

Steven R. Harris   Centre for Astronomy and Science Education, University of Glamorgan, UK

Robert S. Miller   Centre for Astronomy and Science Education, University of Glamorgan, UK

We examine the contention that sufficiently well-informed mass media coverage of scientific and technological issues contributes toward the democratic process by enhancing citizens’ ability to debate and make informed decisions about such issues. Influences upon media science communication which call this model into question are addressed. Miller’s model of the circuit of mass communication frames our analysis of a single news story: Scientist and environmentalist, James Lovelock’s 2004 newspaper article which started a new phase of discussion on UK energy policy by suggesting that citizens accept the increased use of nuclear power now to mitigate worsening global warming in the future. Several factors which affect the quality of scientific information appearing in the article are examined: the use of media ‘news values’ in structuring the text; the ‘mediation’ of salient facts by Lovelock; recognition that a direct influence on political policy making is possible; and the effect of Lovelock’s scientific authority. We conclude that media demand for news value in its science reporting coupled with the various agendas of experts engaged in interpreting the issues make it impossible for citizens to form balanced judgements on scientific and technical issues based on the quality of information received from the mass media.

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