Considering science as a “codified form of knowledge” leads to the need of translating scientific concepts, so that they can be understood by the public. As academic research has shown, such processes of mediation are of paramount importance, since they can help to improve scientific literacy of citizens or they can impoverish it, by means of interpretations and images which are not rigorous. But communicating science in the media is not an easy task, as it involves several processes of interaction between journalistic values and science, which can result in a lack of the expected rigour in the presentation of scientific concepts.

There exist several differences between the processes involved in the production of information in the media and those of scientific work on climate change (CC). While nature processes take place in large periods of time, media work is characterized by a continuous search for the novelty, the immediate and the specific. The absence of “news values” has provoked that information on CC is not always as frequent as it should be, according to the social relevance of the topic. Furthermore, several traditional criteria used in journalistic work, such as the search for balance, have been a source of inadequate coverage of environmental issues.

Previous research shows that news stories on CC often fail to explain science in a rigorous meaningful way. For example, in many cases, they are too superficial and do not include the necessary contextual information (vg. the causes and consequences of the phenomena they portray). In addition, media tend to give priority to journalistic values and criteria over scientific rigour, which can result in stories that are not precise, from a scientific point of view. For example, media tend to translate hypothesis as certainties.

Research has not clarified so far if stories explain concepts by including definitions of terms and explaining the relationships among scientific facts, in view of their interaction with journalistic values. This paper focuses on some preliminary results of a project conducted by a group of researchers of the University of Navarra, on the coverage of CC in the Spanish media. More specifically, it studies how scientific concepts related to climate change are explained in the two leading Spanish daily newspapers (El País and El Mundo), during the Copenhagen summit, in December 2009.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Translation of scientific concepts in the media
A study of information on climate change in the Spanish press

Bienvenido León   School of Public Communication, University of Navarra

Considering science as a “codified form of knowledge” leads to the need of translating scientific concepts, so that they can be understood by the public. As academic research has shown, such processes of mediation are of paramount importance, since they can help to improve scientific literacy of citizens or they can impoverish it, by means of interpretations and images which are not rigorous. But communicating science in the media is not an easy task, as it involves several processes of interaction between journalistic values and science, which can result in a lack of the expected rigour in the presentation of scientific concepts.

There exist several differences between the processes involved in the production of information in the media and those of scientific work on climate change (CC). While nature processes take place in large periods of time, media work is characterized by a continuous search for the novelty, the immediate and the specific. The absence of “news values” has provoked that information on CC is not always as frequent as it should be, according to the social relevance of the topic. Furthermore, several traditional criteria used in journalistic work, such as the search for balance, have been a source of inadequate coverage of environmental issues.

Previous research shows that news stories on CC often fail to explain science in a rigorous meaningful way. For example, in many cases, they are too superficial and do not include the necessary contextual information (vg. the causes and consequences of the phenomena they portray). In addition, media tend to give priority to journalistic values and criteria over scientific rigour, which can result in stories that are not precise, from a scientific point of view. For example, media tend to translate hypothesis as certainties.

Research has not clarified so far if stories explain concepts by including definitions of terms and explaining the relationships among scientific facts, in view of their interaction with journalistic values. This paper focuses on some preliminary results of a project conducted by a group of researchers of the University of Navarra, on the coverage of CC in the Spanish media. More specifically, it studies how scientific concepts related to climate change are explained in the two leading Spanish daily newspapers (El País and El Mundo), during the Copenhagen summit, in December 2009.

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

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