Communication of scientific results seems today to be shaped by apparently contradictory trends. On the one hand, fuelled by the proliferation of journals and the diffusion of digital journals, the ‘tail’ of available contents gets longer: there is more and more space for an increasing number of contributions, however specific and targeted to small niches in terms of audiences. On the other hand, substantial recognition and visibility appear more and more concentrated within a limited circle of journals and scientists that are the equivalent of blockbusters in markets like music or cinema.

The paper will explore the connection between the above dynamics and growing proximity between scientific research and the mass media, highlighting how the ‘Matthew Effect’ described by Merton (1973) gets amplified under the pressure of research institutions’ public relations and through increasingly frequent short-circuiting between science and communication. Thus, science becomes subject to a star-system logic which is not so different from the logic of sport or show business: scientists who have become familiar to the broader public turn into powerful ‘brand’ currency which can be ‘spent’ in a variety of situations. The case of Nobel laureates will be explored in this light.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Star-system and long tails
Contradictory or complementary trends in science communication?

Massimiano Bucchi   Science and Technology in Society Programme, Universit√ɬ† di Trento, Italy

Communication of scientific results seems today to be shaped by apparently contradictory trends. On the one hand, fuelled by the proliferation of journals and the diffusion of digital journals, the ‘tail’ of available contents gets longer: there is more and more space for an increasing number of contributions, however specific and targeted to small niches in terms of audiences. On the other hand, substantial recognition and visibility appear more and more concentrated within a limited circle of journals and scientists that are the equivalent of blockbusters in markets like music or cinema.

The paper will explore the connection between the above dynamics and growing proximity between scientific research and the mass media, highlighting how the ‘Matthew Effect’ described by Merton (1973) gets amplified under the pressure of research institutions’ public relations and through increasingly frequent short-circuiting between science and communication. Thus, science becomes subject to a star-system logic which is not so different from the logic of sport or show business: scientists who have become familiar to the broader public turn into powerful ‘brand’ currency which can be ‘spent’ in a variety of situations. The case of Nobel laureates will be explored in this light.

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

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