The approach of popularization has been frequently criticized in recent studies of science, the environment and the media. Critics say that it is too narrow and too science-centred for purposes of conceptualizing the multiple ways of representing science and the scientist in the media. Yet there have not been many attempts systematically to analyse these different roles and representations.

Leaning on a case study on environmental reporting, I have distinguished between five different media frames and five respective roles for scientists as experts in public discourse: the popularizer, interpreter, adviser, manager and critic. The analysis is based on a study of the newspaper coverage of the forest damage issue in Finnish newspapers between 1989 and 1995 and on interviews with scientists and journalists. These frames and roles also reflect some general features of the public discourse on science and the environment.

Within the frame of popularization, the media present results of some ongoing or newly completed research. Here the role of the scientist is one of a neutral popularizer. The knowledge is presented as certain, without further interpretation. In the social problem frame, on the other hand, the scientist is asked to comment on certain new phenomena that are defined as problematic. These comments may bebased only in part on previous research, and the role of the scientist as an interpreter is to present orientative knowledge. Further, in the (environmental) policy frame, the focus is shifted to the possible solutions of the problem. The role of the scientist is one of an expert presenting environmental policy claims. These three roles form a continuum from a narrow expert position and strategy to a broader one.

A further analysis of the media coverage revealed, however, that the state of the environment was not the only problem to be dealt with. Many news stories about the forest damage issue were in fact more concerned with the state of science than with the state of the environment. The frame of legitimation presented scientists as managers promoting their research and institutions in order to gain more resources. In this frame they also responded to public criticism after the credibility of scientists as experts had been called into question. The frame of science criticism, on the other hand, was about the interpretation of contradictory research results and other statements made by scientists. The typical way of presenting scientific knowledge as certain (in the frame of popularization) was called into question and it was relativized by different (methodological, political or other contextual) explanations.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Popularizers, interpreters, advisers, managers and critics
Representing science and scientists in the media

Esa Vaeliverronen   University of Helsinki

The approach of popularization has been frequently criticized in recent studies of science, the environment and the media. Critics say that it is too narrow and too science-centred for purposes of conceptualizing the multiple ways of representing science and the scientist in the media. Yet there have not been many attempts systematically to analyse these different roles and representations.

Leaning on a case study on environmental reporting, I have distinguished between five different media frames and five respective roles for scientists as experts in public discourse: the popularizer, interpreter, adviser, manager and critic. The analysis is based on a study of the newspaper coverage of the forest damage issue in Finnish newspapers between 1989 and 1995 and on interviews with scientists and journalists. These frames and roles also reflect some general features of the public discourse on science and the environment.

Within the frame of popularization, the media present results of some ongoing or newly completed research. Here the role of the scientist is one of a neutral popularizer. The knowledge is presented as certain, without further interpretation. In the social problem frame, on the other hand, the scientist is asked to comment on certain new phenomena that are defined as problematic. These comments may bebased only in part on previous research, and the role of the scientist as an interpreter is to present orientative knowledge. Further, in the (environmental) policy frame, the focus is shifted to the possible solutions of the problem. The role of the scientist is one of an expert presenting environmental policy claims. These three roles form a continuum from a narrow expert position and strategy to a broader one.

A further analysis of the media coverage revealed, however, that the state of the environment was not the only problem to be dealt with. Many news stories about the forest damage issue were in fact more concerned with the state of science than with the state of the environment. The frame of legitimation presented scientists as managers promoting their research and institutions in order to gain more resources. In this frame they also responded to public criticism after the credibility of scientists as experts had been called into question. The frame of science criticism, on the other hand, was about the interpretation of contradictory research results and other statements made by scientists. The typical way of presenting scientific knowledge as certain (in the frame of popularization) was called into question and it was relativized by different (methodological, political or other contextual) explanations.

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