In many ways, understanding the audience remains the weak link in the public communication of science and technology. We know a lot about the audience interest in science and about audience interest in having science presented in the mass media. However, we know a lot less about how audiences make sense of information about complex scientific issues when they encounter it in newspaper, television, and radio reports. Specifically, to what extent does the way in which science is presentedm in the mass media affect the public’s understanding of science? Does science information in the mass media empower audiences to function more effectively as citizens in today’s society?

This study addresses those questions by taking a look at what audiences themselves actually say about media coverage of three areas of science—health, environment, and technology. Using focus groups and interviews, it listens to audiences discuss, in their own words, how they make sense of news stories about these topics.

Among its findings are that news stories about these issues, regardless of media, often fail to provide even the most basic information. Further, they usually lack the context that audiences need to enable them to understand the information. In addition,mass media science stories are sometimes structured in ways that make comprehension difficult and are framed in ways that inhibit understanding.

Building on this information, the study offers several audience-centered approaches for modifying media coverage in ways that can help audiences better understand such major public issues as AIDS and global warming.

 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Listening to audiences for science information

Carol L. Rogers   University of Maryland, USA

In many ways, understanding the audience remains the weak link in the public communication of science and technology. We know a lot about the audience interest in science and about audience interest in having science presented in the mass media. However, we know a lot less about how audiences make sense of information about complex scientific issues when they encounter it in newspaper, television, and radio reports. Specifically, to what extent does the way in which science is presentedm in the mass media affect the public’s understanding of science? Does science information in the mass media empower audiences to function more effectively as citizens in today’s society?

This study addresses those questions by taking a look at what audiences themselves actually say about media coverage of three areas of science—health, environment, and technology. Using focus groups and interviews, it listens to audiences discuss, in their own words, how they make sense of news stories about these topics.

Among its findings are that news stories about these issues, regardless of media, often fail to provide even the most basic information. Further, they usually lack the context that audiences need to enable them to understand the information. In addition,mass media science stories are sometimes structured in ways that make comprehension difficult and are framed in ways that inhibit understanding.

Building on this information, the study offers several audience-centered approaches for modifying media coverage in ways that can help audiences better understand such major public issues as AIDS and global warming.

 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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