Science communicators the world over fret over how to present truth claims in contested situations, particularly when the best evidence suggests that one claim is more likely to be true than others. Journalistic norms often limit a reporter’s freedom to adjudicate these claims in stories, and audiences in many countries—habituated to the role of the journalist as a “translator” rather than an “evaluator” of evidence—also may react badly to stories that attempt to sort out the most valid claims. Charges of “biased reporting” often accompany such efforts, leading journalists to make strenuous efforts to distance themselves from validity judgments by, for example, giving equal space to all claims in a story or by concentrating solely on “accuracy,” defined here as achieving a good fit between what a source says and what the story reports. Given those challenges, this panel will examine strategies for building journalistic stories about contested science issues in ways that can enhance the ability of audiences to understand that not all truth claims are created equal and, ideally, can help readers/viewers determine which truth claims are likely to be more valid than others. Sharon Dunwoody School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, Title: A Test of Weight-of-Evidence Reporting Journalists often have neither the knowledge nor the time to adjudicate truth claims, making stories that actually evaluate the scientific evidence behind such claims rare. As an alternative, sharing with audiences how experts are arrayed along a continuum of truth claims may be one way to allow non-scientists to determine that some of those claims are more likely to be true than others. This talk will explain this “weight-of-evidence” concept and then will present the results of an experiment testing the ability of a weight-of-evidence narrative to allow participants to accurately determine what the bulk of scientists believe to be true in a scientific controversy. Beatriz Vianna, Department of Communication, George Mason University, United States, Title: A Heavy Weight to Bear: Can Weight-of-Evidence Narratives Succeed in the Face of Ideology? Recent research has suggested that weight-of-evidence narratives can successfully shift audience perceptions about what scientists believe to be true. Thus, weight–of–evidence strategies can be powerful tools in informing lay audiences about scientific claims. However, other researchers suggest that political ideology notions can affect the reception and processing of scientific and risk related information on a small subset of scientific topics (e.g. vaccines, climate change, evolution, GMOs, and several others). This talk will report on an experiment designed to test the power of a weight-of-evidence narrative in the face of such an ideological challenge. Jutta Milde, Interdisciplinary Research Group for Environmental Studies, University of Landau, Germany, Lars Günther and Georg Ruhrmann, Institute of Communication Research, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Germany, Title: Journalists’ Perceptions and Reporting on Scientific Uncertainty and Risks of Nanotechnology Journalists’ decision-making processes on how to report on science depend on factors such as attitudes, professional role conceptions, personal interests or perceptions of audience. These factors also determine how journalists perceive and cover scientific uncertainty and risks of new technologies. This study analyzes journalists’ perceptions of nanotechnology and their treatment of scientific uncertainty and risks via interviews and content analysis. Results suggest that the journalists and their stories reflect three categories: nano critics, nano ambivalents and nano advocates.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Can weight of evidence strategies help audiences evaluate truth claims in controversial science?

Sharon Dunwoody   University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Beatriz Vianna   George Mason University, United States

Lars Günther   Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Germany

Science communicators the world over fret over how to present truth claims in contested situations, particularly when the best evidence suggests that one claim is more likely to be true than others. Journalistic norms often limit a reporter’s freedom to adjudicate these claims in stories, and audiences in many countries—habituated to the role of the journalist as a “translator” rather than an “evaluator” of evidence—also may react badly to stories that attempt to sort out the most valid claims. Charges of “biased reporting” often accompany such efforts, leading journalists to make strenuous efforts to distance themselves from validity judgments by, for example, giving equal space to all claims in a story or by concentrating solely on “accuracy,” defined here as achieving a good fit between what a source says and what the story reports. Given those challenges, this panel will examine strategies for building journalistic stories about contested science issues in ways that can enhance the ability of audiences to understand that not all truth claims are created equal and, ideally, can help readers/viewers determine which truth claims are likely to be more valid than others. Sharon Dunwoody School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, Title: A Test of Weight-of-Evidence Reporting Journalists often have neither the knowledge nor the time to adjudicate truth claims, making stories that actually evaluate the scientific evidence behind such claims rare. As an alternative, sharing with audiences how experts are arrayed along a continuum of truth claims may be one way to allow non-scientists to determine that some of those claims are more likely to be true than others. This talk will explain this “weight-of-evidence” concept and then will present the results of an experiment testing the ability of a weight-of-evidence narrative to allow participants to accurately determine what the bulk of scientists believe to be true in a scientific controversy. Beatriz Vianna, Department of Communication, George Mason University, United States, Title: A Heavy Weight to Bear: Can Weight-of-Evidence Narratives Succeed in the Face of Ideology? Recent research has suggested that weight-of-evidence narratives can successfully shift audience perceptions about what scientists believe to be true. Thus, weight–of–evidence strategies can be powerful tools in informing lay audiences about scientific claims. However, other researchers suggest that political ideology notions can affect the reception and processing of scientific and risk related information on a small subset of scientific topics (e.g. vaccines, climate change, evolution, GMOs, and several others). This talk will report on an experiment designed to test the power of a weight-of-evidence narrative in the face of such an ideological challenge. Jutta Milde, Interdisciplinary Research Group for Environmental Studies, University of Landau, Germany, Lars Günther and Georg Ruhrmann, Institute of Communication Research, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, Germany, Title: Journalists’ Perceptions and Reporting on Scientific Uncertainty and Risks of Nanotechnology Journalists’ decision-making processes on how to report on science depend on factors such as attitudes, professional role conceptions, personal interests or perceptions of audience. These factors also determine how journalists perceive and cover scientific uncertainty and risks of new technologies. This study analyzes journalists’ perceptions of nanotechnology and their treatment of scientific uncertainty and risks via interviews and content analysis. Results suggest that the journalists and their stories reflect three categories: nano critics, nano ambivalents and nano advocates.

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

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