Tuesday, June 01, 2021

How news coverage affects public trust in science

The results of the poor science education of our students.




News Release 1-Jun-2021
Negative stories without context can undermine confidence in science
Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania


News media reports about scientific failures that do not recognize the self-correcting nature of science can damage public perceptions of trust and confidence in scientific work, according to findings by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania and the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York.

News stories about science follow several specific narratives, the researchers write in a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science. One is that science is "in crisis" or "broken," a narrative driven in recent years by reports of unsuccessful efforts to replicate findings in psychology, a rise in retractions, failures of peer review, and the misuse of statistics, among other things.

"Attempts and failures to replicate findings are an essential and healthy part of the scientific process," said co-author Yotam Ophir, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Buffalo and a former postdoctoral fellow in APPC's science of science communication program, where the work was conducted. "Our research shows the need for journalists and scientists to accurately contextualize such failures as part of the self-correcting nature of science."


"By labeling problems in scientific research 'a crisis' and by framing scientific failures as indications that science is unreliable, both scientists and journalists are failing to communicate the true values of science," Ophir said. "Making mistakes is part of science. What the news media and scientists themselves often frame as failure is an indicator of healthy science."

The content analysis found that honorable quest story was the most prevalent. But the study noted that when media reports do discuss failures "they tend to ignore scientific attempts to address the problems," the authors write. "We argue that such narratives about individual or systemic scientific failures fail to communicate scientific norms of continuing exploration, scrutiny, and skepticism and could, particularly if being presented regularly and consistently, harm public trust and confidence in scientific work."


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