- Paperback: 217 pages
- Publisher: W H Freeman & Co; Revised edition (February 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0716725959
- ISBN-13: 978-0716725954
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,912,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology Revised Edition
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She writes, “Scientists still appear to be remote but superior wizards, culturally isolated from the mainstream of society. Such heroic images are most apparent in press reports about prestigious scientists, especially Nobel laureates. But the mystique of science as a superior culture is also conveyed in the coverage of scientific theories, and even in stories about scientific misconduct and fraud” (pg. 14). Nelkin continues, “Most reports on technology are promotional, conveying the message that each new development will provide the magic to solve economic problems or ameliorate social ills. This promotional bias is most apparent in the coverage of computers and biotechnology” (pg. 32). Discussing the role of media coverage, Nelkin writes, “Trying to balance opposing positions, the media seldom explore the scientific issues involved in risk disputes or the methods of risk analysis that would provide a basis for meaningful judgments about competing claims” (pg. 48). In this way, “confused by complexity, most reporters remained silent on the nature of the evidence and the substance of the scientific dispute, simply balancing the views of contradictory sources” (pg. 50). Further, “By creating public issues out of events, the press can force regulatory agencies to action simply out of concern for their public image” (pg. 75).
Examining change over time, Nelkin writes, “As scientific research expanded after World War I, increased public interest in science was reflected in a growing popular science press. This press focused mainly on applications; science became a way to get things done” (pg. 80). She continues, “In the 1960s the expansion of an advocacy press with a critical and reformist ideology forced the mainstream press to reconsider the conventions of journalism, and news articles became more interpretive, investigative, and adversarial in character. Science writing reflected these trends” (pg. 89). Further, Nelkin argues that journalists struggle with “having to assimilate and simplify vast amounts of sometimes extremely complex material…This so-called information explosion has many consequences for journalists, who, even if scientifically trained, cannot possibly keep up with the latest details of all specialties” (pg. 117). Finally, “While scientists see public communication of scientific information as necessary and desirable, they are also aware that it extends their accountability beyond the scientific community. Once information enters the arena of public discourse, it becomes a visible public affair that is open to external investigation and regulation” (pg. 148).
Nelkin concludes, “This book has suggested that many of the characteristics of science and technology reporting reflect the nature of the relationship between journalists and their sources. Concerned about their legitimacy in the political arena and anxious to receive support for their work, scientists are sensitive to their image in the press. Hoping to shape that image, they are becoming adept at packaging information for journalists. Like advocates in any field, they are prone to overestimate the benefit of their work and minimize its risks” (pg. 163).
No scientist who deals with the media should be without this book. Its examples are dated (from the late 80s and early 90s), but its points remain wholly intact. The recent scandal of how the media handled the climate change issue in the U.S., favoring ideas of "uncertainty" in the name of "balance" (while being deeply influenced by a tiny but vocal minority of global warming deniers) is certainly a case in point.
The book should also be read by all students of media studies, and by journalists themselves.