Last year researchers of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nijmegen carried out a study of the use of statistical information in newspaper articles on scientific research. The study was commissioned by the Dutch Association for Science and Technology Communication (Stichting We Te N). In this workshop a staff  member  of  the  association  discusses  the  research  method,  the  main  results  and  the  way  Stichting We Te N will implement these for future action.

The  uncertainties  inherent  in  statistically  informed  scientific  research  pose  a  problem  for  a  journalist’s demand  for  clarity  in  news  writing.  The  basic  question  of  this  study  was:  how  do  journalists  deal  with statistical  information,  how  are  matters  of  risk  and  probability  handled?  In  other  words:  how  does  the coverage of scientific research reflect present-day ‘risk society’?

The study consists of three parts: a qualitative analysis with the purpose to develop a method for selection and  analysis  of  newspaper  articles,  a  content  analysis  of  the  selected  articles,  and  interviews  with journalists and editors from the news section as well as science journalists. The first, qualitative part of the study explores the kind of articles in which aspects of uncertainty play a part. News coverage of scientific research is very diverse and found in all sections of news papers. Often the word ‘onderzoek’ (research) is also used referring to work in non-scientific settings (medical examination, police inquiries, administrative inspections). On the basis of these explorations the next, quantitative-descriptive part of the study was set up. The purpose was to obtain a clear picture of the way Dutch journalists, non-science editors in particular, write on results of (scientific) research. From two week’s issue of eight newspapers, five national and three regional, 624 articles were collected and analysed. On the average 6.5 articles in news papers focus on or refer  to  some  kind  of  (semi)scientific  research  (that  is  including  research  of  non-academic  organisations) and  most  of  these  articles  appear  in  the  news  sections.  The  final  part  of  the  study  aimed  at  the  role  of journalists: how do they select items, what problems do they encounter in writing about scientific research and  what  are  their  perspectives  in  dealing  with  themes  like  risk  society,  uncertainty,  probability  and statistics. Ten journalists were interviewed. Journalists value results of scientific research differently, but in general do not consider aspects of uncertainty to be very important in news coverage. Stichting We Te N is going to start up a dialogue with journalists, aimed at discovering ways and means for understandable yet truthful coverage of present-day scientific work.




 


 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

How do journalists use statistical information?
An analysis of articles on scientific research in newspapers

Anne Dijkstra   Dutch Association for Science and Technology Communication (Stichting We Te N)

Last year researchers of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nijmegen carried out a study of the use of statistical information in newspaper articles on scientific research. The study was commissioned by the Dutch Association for Science and Technology Communication (Stichting We Te N). In this workshop a staff  member  of  the  association  discusses  the  research  method,  the  main  results  and  the  way  Stichting We Te N will implement these for future action.

The  uncertainties  inherent  in  statistically  informed  scientific  research  pose  a  problem  for  a  journalist’s demand  for  clarity  in  news  writing.  The  basic  question  of  this  study  was:  how  do  journalists  deal  with statistical  information,  how  are  matters  of  risk  and  probability  handled?  In  other  words:  how  does  the coverage of scientific research reflect present-day ‘risk society’?

The study consists of three parts: a qualitative analysis with the purpose to develop a method for selection and  analysis  of  newspaper  articles,  a  content  analysis  of  the  selected  articles,  and  interviews  with journalists and editors from the news section as well as science journalists. The first, qualitative part of the study explores the kind of articles in which aspects of uncertainty play a part. News coverage of scientific research is very diverse and found in all sections of news papers. Often the word ‘onderzoek’ (research) is also used referring to work in non-scientific settings (medical examination, police inquiries, administrative inspections). On the basis of these explorations the next, quantitative-descriptive part of the study was set up. The purpose was to obtain a clear picture of the way Dutch journalists, non-science editors in particular, write on results of (scientific) research. From two week’s issue of eight newspapers, five national and three regional, 624 articles were collected and analysed. On the average 6.5 articles in news papers focus on or refer  to  some  kind  of  (semi)scientific  research  (that  is  including  research  of  non-academic  organisations) and  most  of  these  articles  appear  in  the  news  sections.  The  final  part  of  the  study  aimed  at  the  role  of journalists: how do they select items, what problems do they encounter in writing about scientific research and  what  are  their  perspectives  in  dealing  with  themes  like  risk  society,  uncertainty,  probability  and statistics. Ten journalists were interviewed. Journalists value results of scientific research differently, but in general do not consider aspects of uncertainty to be very important in news coverage. Stichting We Te N is going to start up a dialogue with journalists, aimed at discovering ways and means for understandable yet truthful coverage of present-day scientific work.




 


 

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

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