This paper will examine the role of a broad coalition of science communicators, led by the UK Science Media Centre (SMC), in communicating the proposed practice of creating animal human hybrid embryos. It focuses on the implications such campaigns have on the quality and independence of science news and the role of scientific institutions and scientists in the provision of information about their work to publics and media. Drawing on data from 16 interviews (with specialist science journalists, PR operatives, and key news sources), and a content analysis of 427 UK newspaper articles, findings reveal that a powerful coalition of scientists, learned societies, and charities won a clear victory on their own terms, using a range of PR strategies (issues management, relationship management, crisis management, etc), in a struggle against a less cohesive group of religious figures, ethicists, and campaigners.  This victory can be explained with reference to a number of public relations approaches and tactics, but this persuasion-based PR success arguably came at a price for scientists, journalists, and publics because it encouraged: self-censorship among scientists in public debate; uncritical “churnalism”; and the simplification and “hyping” of complex scientific research of uncertain value. 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Selling science?

Andy Williams   Cardiff University

This paper will examine the role of a broad coalition of science communicators, led by the UK Science Media Centre (SMC), in communicating the proposed practice of creating animal human hybrid embryos. It focuses on the implications such campaigns have on the quality and independence of science news and the role of scientific institutions and scientists in the provision of information about their work to publics and media. Drawing on data from 16 interviews (with specialist science journalists, PR operatives, and key news sources), and a content analysis of 427 UK newspaper articles, findings reveal that a powerful coalition of scientists, learned societies, and charities won a clear victory on their own terms, using a range of PR strategies (issues management, relationship management, crisis management, etc), in a struggle against a less cohesive group of religious figures, ethicists, and campaigners.  This victory can be explained with reference to a number of public relations approaches and tactics, but this persuasion-based PR success arguably came at a price for scientists, journalists, and publics because it encouraged: self-censorship among scientists in public debate; uncritical “churnalism”; and the simplification and “hyping” of complex scientific research of uncertain value. 

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