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Understanding Why Science Research Is Translated into News: A Survey for Journalists and Bloggers, Part 1

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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When it comes to science in the news, many scientists lament poor quality of news coverage of scientific studies. Over-claiming headlines. Lack of understanding of the scientific method. Scientific findings placed outside of their context.

But perhaps we can’t fully understand the sources of hype or misinformation in science news coverage until we better understand the rules journalists use for selection and production of science news studies. Why does one scientific study make it into the news, and another not? Why does one scientific press release catch a journalist’s eye, and another not?

This is precisely the question I am trying to answer with a new science communication project for my PhD research at Louisiana State University. For this project, I have created a survey that aims to answer questions related to how science research and press releases are translated into science news.

If you are a journalist, blogger, freelance writer, magazine writer, TV producer, radio announcer, podcast producer, or anything in between, I’m asking you to participate in this online survey. By participating in this survey, which only takes 15 minutes to complete, journalists, bloggers and other communicators can help me understand when and why science makes its way from research publication to news story.

By participating in this survey, you also have the chance to win a $20 Starbucks gift card as the 100th, 200th, etc. participant.

To participate, simply copy and paste the following URL into a new browser window:

https://lsucommunications.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0PTVlA7OUCLqkyV

This survey will hopefully be translated itself into a peer-reviewed research paper that will help other communication scholars understand the why’s of science news story selection. But in order to make that happen, I need your help! Please spread the word about this survey, link to it on Facebook and Twitter, and send it to your journalism colleagues.

Thank you for your participation!

Photo: (C) Paige Brown

Paige Brown About the Author: Paige Brown is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in Mass Communication at the Manship School, Louisiana State University. In her research, she focuses on science and environmental communications and message effectiveness. She also holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biological and Agricultural Engineering from Louisiana State University. Paige is the author of the science blog From The Lab Bench, hosted on SciLogs.com, where she is also the blogging community manager. Follow on Twitter @FromTheLabBench.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 6 Comments

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  1. 1. Hitchiker of the Galaxy 5:21 am 08/22/2013

    No journalist will admit it, but large part are business interests of media companies.

    Hypothetical example 1.: the government buys lots of advertisements in your newspaper. Will you offend your customer by publishing articles that government research strategy is bad?

    Hypothetical example 2.: a company publishing a magazine is a part of conglomerate which also invests in some business. Would the company publish many articles that this business in bad for environment?

    And selection of news is normally by hiring convenient editorial board and journalists, not by selecting separate topics.

    Link to this
  2. 2. edrybicki 6:54 am 08/22/2013

    DONE! Great idea. Shared via Twitter with microbiological micro- and macroblogging community.

    Link to this
  3. 3. rkipling 11:14 am 08/22/2013

    Ms. Brown,

    I don’t qualify for participation in your survey, but I will offer an opinion. When I read what appears to be poor quality reporting on this site, I look at the educational background of the writer. Almost without exception the poorer reporting is done by those, unlike you, who have little or no scientific training.

    Those with only English or journalism degrees seem to be the worst. I started to speculate that they go with their gut, but on reflection I really have no idea what their process may be; their political viewpoint perhaps? Sometimes their headline and the article the headline is based on have little in common.

    The only real avenue for improvement I see is for more people like you to become science writers. That is to say people who can actually understand math, chemistry, biology, etc., vet a scientific paper, and sort through the BS.

    I detect your engineering background in your method of investigation. As an engineer, that makes sense to me. I don’t understand the writing for a living part, but you absolutely need to do what you enjoy.

    Here’s a word of caution for when you are around other writers. You may want to keep your engineering/science degrees on the dl. They look askance at people who have dabbled in what they consider the dark arts.

    Link to this
  4. 4. rkipling 2:14 pm 08/23/2013

    Now here is an interesting aspect to your subject. When you have a minute, take a look at the blog post (also on this site) link below:

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/the-curious-wavefunction/2013/08/22/nuclear-vs-renewables-a-tale-of-disparities/#comment-2081

    This blog post is contrary to the general drift of promotion of renewable energy as only real option for the future. It isn’t against renewable energy. It simply says renewables should be used where they make sense.

    Oddly and very unusually, this particular blog post doesn’t show up in the SciAm home page under Topics: Latest in Energy & Sustainability and in Latest News. So this post is invisible unless you go to the blogger’s page directly. Oddly coincidental that it is counter to their political leaning.

    Link to this
  5. 5. rkipling 5:30 pm 08/26/2013

    If you have time, take a look at this blog post and the comments. It’s an example of science writers not vetting the topic.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=could-carbon-farms-reverse-global-warming&posted=1&posted=1#comments

    Link to this
  6. 6. paigekbrown 2:43 pm 03/12/2014

    Part II of this survey, which includes results from Part I, is now online: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/03/12/understanding-why-science-research-is-translated-into-news-a-survey-for-journalists-bloggers-part-ii/

    Link to this

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