This themed session of a papers aims to focus on the role and function of the Science Media Centres. This session explores in depth some of the wider issues involve which are rarely discussed when exploring wider impact of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre’s. The SMC says that they are helping scientists to communicate better with the media but what impact does this have on the public? Does it matter who is funding them? How independent is the independence they claim to have and how do they choose the subject and angle of the stories they cover and what about the unspoken influences such as the political ideology? How do science journalists deal with the material from this powerful science PR agency? There will be a series of papers presented in this session that examine the actual reporting impact, the political and ideological impact as well as the implications for policy. 1.The Impact of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre (SMC) on Science Reporting : empowering or dis-empowering for the public? This paper will present the findings of a study on the impact and quality of the “briefings” which take place weekly at London‘s United Kingdom SMC. The study will use the briefing material supplied by the Centre and will measure the impact of the briefings by analysing the content of the news stories that are published by the science reporters in the media. The study will analyse a range of media and types of science stories in a given period and look for evidence of churnalism, inaccuracy, hype and bias (political or scientific) or any other latent messages. 2. An Analysis of the History and Output of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre This paper examines the history and output of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre. It gives an overview of the ideas about science advanced by those who set it up, the milieu in which they operate and analysis of the organisations involved. The second part of the paper systematically analyses data on all of the ‘scientists and engineers’ cited on the SMC website over a ten year period. The aim is to 1. Analyse the background of the experts in terms of discipline and research topic; 2. Examine the extent of conflicts of interest among the experts and 3. To assess whether the SMC can be said to be ‘biased’ in a particular direction. 3.Selling Science This paper will examine the role of a broad coalition of science communicators, led by the United Kingdom Science Media Centre (SMC), in communicating the proposed practice of creating animal human hybrid embryos. It focusses 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 United Kingdom 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. 4.Open research: can we move beyond ‘closed’ communication strategies? The last twenty years has seen fairly consistent calls for greater openness and transparency by officials in a number of countries, often with the stated aim of increasing trust in the sciences. These calls are now writ large in the United Kingdom as researchers are required to demonstrate how they will engage with non-academics to generate research impact. On a similar timescale, the United Kingdom has begun to embed an open access agenda for research publications. Throughout this period news management strategies continue to endure with institutional support. This paper will explore some of the tensions surrounding the context for open research, exploring some of the implications for communication and engagement strategies.

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PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Do science media centres empower or dis-empower the public or scientists?

Connie St Louis   City University London, United Kingdom

David Miller   Bath Univeristy, United Kingdom

Andy Williams   Cardiff University, United Kingdom

Richard Holliman   The Open University, United Kingdom

This themed session of a papers aims to focus on the role and function of the Science Media Centres. This session explores in depth some of the wider issues involve which are rarely discussed when exploring wider impact of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre’s. The SMC says that they are helping scientists to communicate better with the media but what impact does this have on the public? Does it matter who is funding them? How independent is the independence they claim to have and how do they choose the subject and angle of the stories they cover and what about the unspoken influences such as the political ideology? How do science journalists deal with the material from this powerful science PR agency? There will be a series of papers presented in this session that examine the actual reporting impact, the political and ideological impact as well as the implications for policy. 1.The Impact of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre (SMC) on Science Reporting : empowering or dis-empowering for the public? This paper will present the findings of a study on the impact and quality of the “briefings” which take place weekly at London‘s United Kingdom SMC. The study will use the briefing material supplied by the Centre and will measure the impact of the briefings by analysing the content of the news stories that are published by the science reporters in the media. The study will analyse a range of media and types of science stories in a given period and look for evidence of churnalism, inaccuracy, hype and bias (political or scientific) or any other latent messages. 2. An Analysis of the History and Output of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre This paper examines the history and output of the United Kingdom Science Media Centre. It gives an overview of the ideas about science advanced by those who set it up, the milieu in which they operate and analysis of the organisations involved. The second part of the paper systematically analyses data on all of the ‘scientists and engineers’ cited on the SMC website over a ten year period. The aim is to 1. Analyse the background of the experts in terms of discipline and research topic; 2. Examine the extent of conflicts of interest among the experts and 3. To assess whether the SMC can be said to be ‘biased’ in a particular direction. 3.Selling Science This paper will examine the role of a broad coalition of science communicators, led by the United Kingdom Science Media Centre (SMC), in communicating the proposed practice of creating animal human hybrid embryos. It focusses 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 United Kingdom 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. 4.Open research: can we move beyond ‘closed’ communication strategies? The last twenty years has seen fairly consistent calls for greater openness and transparency by officials in a number of countries, often with the stated aim of increasing trust in the sciences. These calls are now writ large in the United Kingdom as researchers are required to demonstrate how they will engage with non-academics to generate research impact. On a similar timescale, the United Kingdom has begun to embed an open access agenda for research publications. Throughout this period news management strategies continue to endure with institutional support. This paper will explore some of the tensions surrounding the context for open research, exploring some of the implications for communication and engagement strategies.

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

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