PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Social science communication policies, social scientists' communication strategies, and crises journalism

Corinna Lüthje  

Journalism and social sciences vary in their modes of orientation and social interaction. Especially, the complexity and long term perspectives of science do not cope well with time pressure and news factor orientation of journalists (Klimmt & Sowka, 2013). Although fields such as psychology, policy analysis or education seem to be very present in mass media, socials sciences often struggle with the public communication about their findings. They are regarded as less authoritive as natural sciences, have difficulties "with the epistemological status of their disciplines" (Cassidy, 2014) and also fail to explain their workings and criteria of knowledge production (Fähnrich et al., 2015). The aim of this contribution is to analyze the public communication of social scientists by using the example of the German PEGIDA movement. The outbreak of right wing activism in October 2014 in Dresden and other German cities led to intensive mass media reporting. But, the members of PEGIDA refused to communicate with journalists and even disparaged media as "Lügenpresse" (a term from Nazi terminology). The spontaneity of developments led to a constant lack of information and almost synchronized news, symptoms known as "disaster mode" of journalism (Weichert, 2006). With the movement evolving so tremendously, journalists were in almost desperate need for new information. Especially, the expertise of social scientists was demanded to explain the sociopolitical backgrounds of PEGIDA, its reasons for success and its general impact on the German society. Social scientists were as surprised by the emergence and dynamics of the movement as media and politics but failed to deliver profound explanations. Several scholars tried to fill the news vacuum, presented quickly conducted surveys and claimed the validity and generalizability of results. Other scholars were accused for "stealth issue advocacy" (Pielke jr., 2007). Their attempts to advance the political agenda were even more perceived as offence on the public credibility of social sciences. Based on the outline so far our contribution aims to answer the following questions: What role do social scientists and social sciences play in the media discourse about PEGIDA? How is social scientific research represented within the media discourse? Which strategies do social scientists apply to gain representation and media attention? We will present results of an intra-extra-media-comparison of scientific sources (press releases, research reports) and coverage in German newspapers, which show the media strategies of social scientists on the one and the processing of scientific information by journalists on the other hand. Finally we want to give some initial suggestions for social scientists (which for shure might be adapted by natural scientist) how to interact with media in acute crises: Withstand media pressure! Withstand the seduction of mediahype and thrill marketing - no rat race for public attention! No quick-and-dirty data-collection! No media effective presentation of questionable data!

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