ArticlePDF Available

The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy


Abstract and Figures

We argue that the institutionalized push communication of academic institutions has become the dominant form of public science communication and has tended to force other forms and functions of science communication into the background. Given the new schemes of public funding, public communication of science now primarily serves the purpose of enabling academic institutions to promote themselves in a competition that has been forced upon them by the political domain. What academics working under these conditions say about themselves and their work (and what they do not) will depend crucially on the strategic communication goals and concepts of the organizations to which they belong. We surmise that the inherent logic of this form of science communication represents a potential threat to the autonomy of scientific research.
Content may be subject to copyright.
SISSA – International School for Advanced Studies Journal of Science Communication
ISSN 1824 – 2049
The changing rationale of science communication:
a challenge to scientific autonomy
Frank Marcinkowski and Matthias Kohring
ABS TR ACT:We argue that the institutionalized push communication of academic
institutions has become the dominant form of public science communication and
has tended to force other forms and functions of science communication into the
background. Given the new schemes of public funding, public communication
of science now primarily serves the purpose of enabling academic institutions
to promote themselves in a competition that has been forced upon them by the
political domain. What academics working under these conditions say about
themselves and their work (and what they do not) will depend crucially on the
strategic communication goals and concepts of the organizations to which they
belong. We surmise that the inherent logic of this form of science communication
represents a potential threat to the autonomy of scientific research.
We can understand the term science communication in its most general sense as each
instance of communication about scientific research which is addressed to a public, as
well as about the knowledge (technology) resulting from this [1]. Science communica-
tion is in fact a multifaceted phenomenon: it employs a variety of formats and channels
of communication, involves different actors, and pursues very different, even sometimes
conflicting, objectives. We can nonetheless use three distinctions to make some order of
the confusion. First, we should distinguish between individual and institutional commu-
nicators — that is, between an individual academic who reports on his or her research,
and the press office of an academic institution in which there are usually professional
communicators who provide information on the work of academics belonging to the in-
stitution. Second, we should distinguish between communication by science, and com-
munication about science. This distinction concerns the question of whether academics
or academic institutions provide self-descriptions of their own action, or whether external
observers (especially journalists) communicate their assessments of scientific processes
and findings, and place them in a social context. Third, we should make a distinction
JCOM 13(03)(2014)C04 Licensed under Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0
2 F. Marcinkowski and M. Kohring
between different modes of science communication, which are defined by the relation-
ship of communicators and recipients. In so-called push communication, the prerogative
lies with the communicator, who consciously and purposefully selects desired recipients
whose interest the communicator simply presupposes and whom the communicator ad-
dresses directly with its range of communications, i.e., s/he pushes the message. The
prime example here is the work of university press offices, which, automatically and usu-
ally without there being a particular demand, send out mailings to “their” distribution
lists. We distinguish this from so-called pull communication, where the communicator
makes his/her information available to an anonymous and dispersed public through ap-
propriate channels, which can then be selected and “pulled” on by recipients according
to their individual interests. Examples here are journal articles about science, but also,
for example, science blogs or wikis.
If we imagine these distinctions as axes of a three-dimensional matrix (Figure 1), then
what emerges is a space with eight blocks, each one representing a unique format of
science communication.
Figure 1. Facets and formats of science communication.
We argue here that the lower right square of the first level, i.e., the push communication
of academic institutions (usually executed by institutional press offices), has become the
dominant form of public science communication and has tended to force other forms and
functions of science communication into the background. Given the new schemes of pub-
lic funding, the public communication of science primarily serves the purpose of enabling
academic institutions to promote themselves in a competition that has been forced upon
them by the political domain. What academics working under these conditions say about
themselves and their work (and what they do not) will depend crucially on the strategic
communication goals and concepts of the organizations to which they belong. We surmise
that the inherent logic of this form of science communication represents a potential threat
to the autonomy of scientific research, with our argument being based on our studies of
the publicly funded system of higher education in Germany [2].
The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy 3
Is science a genuine public business?
The absolute requirement for science to present itself in public is now simply assumed
to be obvious and a matter of course. Those academics or academic institutions that try
to evade the ubiquitous pressure to communicate publicly come under huge pressure to
justify themselves. External communication of almost any kind and amount is considered
useful and desirable per se — indeed, it is often already understood as being a genuine
component of academic activity.
If we consider the process of scientific understanding from a functional point of view,
however, then the notion that science has to publish itself becomes by no means self-
explanatory or self-evident. The function of science is clearly to formulate sentences
which, assuming a certain understanding of truth and accepted methods, are considered
true and which can therefore be particularly useful in guiding human action. The epis-
temic process itself, the process of attributing truth values to statements, therefore re-
quires neither public visibility nor the sanction of an uninvolved third party. Whether a
statement is deemed true or false is determined within science, and usually within the
epistemic publics of scientific communities. There is no reason to assume that the pro-
cess of scientific understanding would be furthered by having as many people as possible
observing or being involved in procedures of justification. Science has had to fight for a
very long time for this functional autonomy — against the claims, for example, made by
religion, politics and, more recently, even against the claims of the public. Also beyond
the immediate context of justification in the research process, there is no functional jus-
tification for public science communication, since an insight obviously does not become
truer simply by being shared publicly, and nor does it become false simply by remaining
unknown to most people.
That means that the idea and practice of the public self-presentation of scientific pro-
cesses of understanding are epistemically non-functional at best; at the same time, though,
they can have societal consequences. Since every action responds to the fact of its observ-
ability, the public domain brings into play motives, criteria and dynamics that can poten-
tially challenge the original “purpose” of science — and thereby also hinder it. In the
following, we are concerned exclusively with these negative consequences of visibility
for the autonomy and functioning of science.
So as not to be misunderstood, we do not want to deny that science has to answer to
society, and especially so if it is publicly funded. It has not yet been decided, though,
which mechanisms in the production of democratic accountability should be used in this
regard. There is in any case no compelling reason to fixate prematurely on PR as the
primary mechanism of accountability. Every democratic society knows areas of public
action that have to be accountable, but that no one would expect to have to be accountable
through presenting itself in public. This applies, for example, to many parts of internal
and external security, where the claim is rather that being too much in the public eye
could have a detrimental effect. And that is precisely our claim for science, too. Areas
of action for which that holds true justify themselves through functioning well. Their
4 F. Marcinkowski and M. Kohring
so-called output legitimacy results from “being good” instead of just “looking good” [3].
Furthermore, of course, such areas should be monitored by an independent journalism
and thereby exposed to public observation.
Who needs science communication?
So how did the demand for public communication from science come into being, if it is
not a core component of what academics do? Besides certain ideological currents, espe-
cially the social-democratization of many European countries and the associated demand
for equal access to higher education, it is primarily economic constraints that are respon-
sible. According to these constraints, the demand for public science communication is
justified by the organization of science, coupled with the dependence of organizations
on money. Science can only be sustained on a permanent basis if it takes place in or-
ganizations (universities, colleges, research centres, etc.), and organizations need money
to motivate membership. Most European countries have publicly funded organizations of
science, with the state collecting money in the form of taxes and passing it on to academic
organizations, for which in return it expects extensive involvement in how the money is
used and reserves the right to monitor how it is spent. The state is answerable for what re-
sults from this to those who provide the money, i.e., to the electorate. As that has become
more difficult and costly, so the state has relieved itself of the duty of detailed responsibil-
ity by tying funding to performance agreements, withdrawing from micro-management,
and granting organizations themselves more autonomy in budgeting and spending [4].
The idea behind this new public management is that, in return, organizations will have to
manage the task of justifying themselves to those who provide the money and use their
services. In that way, the binding of the reformed unit to its external (non-governmental)
“stakeholder” is intended to become closer, so that the unit responds more directly to the
interests of “stakeholders” and also feels a more direct pressure to justify itself with regard
to these “stakeholders” (so-called “public accountability”).
The work of legitimation therefore takes place — apparently so, since everyone knows
that the duty of accountability internal to science is rapidly increasing — not directly with
regard to the state funder, but instead with regard to the electorate or taxpayers. That is
a process of democratization only in appearance; in actual fact, politics withdraws from
its original responsibility of making binding decisions and formulating appropriate crite-
ria for this purpose. Science is subordinated instead to two regimes foreign to it, these
regimes being intended to ensure “efficiency” and “quality”. One is economic rationality,
which has ensured the propagation of the figure of competition alien to science, while the
other is the rationality of media publicity and the pursuit of visibility and attention associ-
ated with it. The latter is not limited to science, and, in conscious reference to Horkheimer
and Adorno’s concept of the culture industry, we could almost talk in terms of an attention
industry. In their pursuit of visibility, both aspects are inextricably intertwined: competi-
tion is publicly demonstrated and staged for the public, the most prominent examples of
which are the German Excellence Initiative and the ubiquitous rankings.
The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy 5
Once an institution has made the decision to compete for public attention, it is then
bound (no matter what terms we use to embellish this or how respectable personal motives
are) to the compulsion of self-promotion, of image building and image maintenance, of
self-marketing, of consent management. But above all the criteria of success become ever
more important for the generation of public attention. Science communication is therefore
a gateway for non-scientific motives, relevance criteria and dynamics, and that, from the
perspective of science, is anything but good news.
The collateral damage of publicity
While going along with the needs of the news media was frowned upon until quite re-
cently, universities have believed for several years now that there simply cannot be enough
public attention, and so they work with all means possible to increase their own visibility.
Behind this there is no recognition of a public function of control and criticism, or even
of participation by the lay public. On the contrary, this mediatization of academic institu-
tions, understood as the adaptation to the criteria of public attention, is a PR strategy to
enable universities to survive and thrive in an artificial competition for financial resources
that was initiated in the political domain.
It was once believed that the enlightening of the lay population through knowledge
could also bring about acceptance for the producer of that knowledge. Although this
never really worked as a whole, the belief still has a rational bent which seems almost
touching nowadays. The exaggerated pursuit of public attention is now entirely detached
from the internal logic of science that we have already described, and it therefore detaches
itself also from its functional orientation. Put bluntly, the science system no longer does
what society really needs it for. Most strikingly, this is in the seemingly innocent and
at first glance generous demand to reward academics for public science communication.
Such incentives aim to change science in such a way that it communicates about itself. It
is therefore not science that has primacy, but communication about science. Only recently
did a representative of a well-known German academic organization openly express sym-
pathy for the view that only a blogging academic is a good academic, and that the means
of control of “performance bonuses” could well work here.
What becomes clear from such examples is not only the confusion of visibility with
relevance; much more serious is what we refer to as the exchange of the dominant “cur-
rency”, with the dominant currency of the news media (which is functional and necessary
for society) becoming the dominant currency of science. It exercises a strong influence
at least on the entire process leading to understanding in science: research topics are
chosen according to their current potential for attention, resulting in a mainstreaming of
scholarly work. Hypotheses are formulated according to exactly the same criteria. Puta-
tive research “findings” are published through the mass media before having passed the
peer review process. Results are reframed for the public in order to make positive as-
pects more salient while hiding critical consequences. The social impact of any field of
research is consequently exaggerated. Research money and other rewards are distributed
6 F. Marcinkowski and M. Kohring
to those who master the “beauty contest”, and therefore this process is reinforced. In ef-
fect, academics and their work are evaluated according to whether or not they capture the
attention of a non-academic public sphere [5].
It is said that artificial competitions — that is, competitions without a functioning
demand-driven market on which a price mechanism forces an adjustment of supply to
performance — lead to a perversion of incentive systems [6]. Our thesis goes one step
further: we argue that science communication geared to public attention as an intrinsic
value systematically threatens the quality of science — and precisely because it is public.
How can we justify such a claim?
The competition for media attention in which science is engaged — incidentally, no
longer as the science, but only still as an apparent unity of actually competing organiza-
tions — requires criteria that at least suggest the possibility of comparison. Visibility and
the public attention related to it is one such criterion. As long as journalism produces
this visibility according to its own intrinsic logic, this is not only unproblematic, but even
socially desirable, with journalism highlighting the relevance of science for society. This
means that despite the tight coupling of both systems we expect science journalism to
stick to the rules of journalism, instead of just copying science. But that applies to sci-
ence, too. Academia should also prevent the scientific rationale from colonization by the
logic of public attention instead of turning scientists into accomplices of mediatization.
Yet, the value of an academic is becoming increasingly measured according to whether
he or she has accumulated as many units of the currency of “public attention” as possible.
The mechanism described here increasingly affects, and has already affected, academic
life, including the epistemic procedures of science, so that we can even claim that it has
gradually eaten its way into these processes of understanding at the core of science. In
short, when public attention becomes the dominant criterion, then we consider the demand
for more publicity for science, i.e., for more communication from science into the public
sphere, as being not only alien to science, but indeed harmful to it.
What is good science communication?
So how can we imagine better communication from science into the public sphere? Is
it really the individual academics themselves who benefit from a forced science commu-
nication from science into the public sphere? We would answer with a resounding “no”
here. Is it the academic organization, e.g., a university, that benefits (and then indirectly
its academics)? At first glance, “yes”, since those placed at the forefront in the compe-
tition for attention receive more resources. But even here there is harm done (described
above) to the venture of science, when public attention also becomes the criterion by
which science is judged successful. This diagnosis applies also to those who are not seen
in the truest sense of the word, since every competition generates a lot more losers than
winners, and these losers have also likewise bent themselves double in order to “gain a
profile” (the German Excellence Initiative provides very illustrative examples here). In-
terestingly, those who do not even try would benefit more, for at least they would not
The changing rationale of science communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy 7
corrupt their researchers. But in the attention industry, what has already established itself
as a flaw is not communicating and not considering publicity as a panacea. Those op-
posed to publicity arouse suspicion and are considered stuck in the past. We can see one
thing above all with regard to such arguments: the ideologization of the term “publicity”.
We could also speculate that the taxpayer might benefit from more public communica-
tion of science, because it is thereby made directly accountable to the taxpayer. This is a
very weak argument. It is very doubtful whether there is among the population more than
a marginal interest in such push science communication, which is not to be confused with
a lack of acceptance of science. In fact, public support of science is comparatively high.
Was one of the large communication campaigns on behalf of science really being serious
when it spoke of “dialogue” and similarly lofty ideas? With the recent governance reforms
in higher education and research at the latest, we can see that it is on the whole not about
the ordinary person on the street or the informed citizen. Rather, without wanting to dis-
credit the personal motives of science communicators, we can see that public promotion
of science is about leaving an impression on those who decide upon the levels of invest-
ment in higher education and research, and that is still primarily the political domain.
Politics in turn is accustomed to evaluating its own decisions via media attention, since it
reaches its voters in such a way; but it does not realize that this is totally inappropriate in
the case of science, since this public internal to science simply does not exist.
If we draw a balance sheet, then we can make the following three arguments. First,
“public attention” is the wrong criterion for measuring the quality of individual scientists
and academic institutions. Second, the application of this criterion is directly harmful
to the production of scientific knowledge. Third, spending a lot of money on this, tying
the time of academics down, and increasingly demotivating them — all this is simply
wasting immense resources on the wrong strategy.
If our argument is correct, then “better science communication” would mean adding by
subtracting. We are firmly convinced that science would advance more rapidly and with
greater potential societal benefit without such a strong focus on publicity. By this we by
no means mean that the external communication of science and with it science-related PR
is generally unnecessary. Rather, it is to warn against the ever increasing pervasiveness of
push science communication and the current political drives to persuade everyone to do it.
[1] T.W. Burns, D.J. O’Connor and S.M. Stocklmayer (2003), “Sci. Commun.: A Contemporary
Definition”, Pub. Underst. Sci. 12(2): 183–202.
[2] F. Marcinkowski, M. Kohring, A. Friedrichsmeier and S. F¨
urst (2014), “Testing the Organizational
Influence on Scientists’ Media Contacts”, Sci. Commun. 36(1): 56–80;
F. Marcinkowski, M. Kohring, C. Lindner and S. Karis (2013), “Media orientation of university
decision makers and the executive influence of public relations”, Public Relat. Rev. 39(3): 171–177;
8 F. Marcinkowski and M. Kohring
F. Marcinkowski, M. Kohring, A. Friedrichsmeier and S. F¨
urst (2013), “Neue Governance und die
Offentlichkeit der Hochschulen”, in E. Grande et al. eds., Neue Governance der Wissenschaft:
Reorganisation – externe Anforderungen – Medialisierung, Transcript, Bielefeld, Germany,
pp. 257–288.
[3] D.A. Gioia and K.G. Corley (2002), “Being Good versus Looking Good: Business School Rankings
and the Circean Transformation from Substance to Image”, Academy of Management Learning &
Education 1(1): 107–120.
[4] P. Mattei ed. (2014), University adaptation in difficult economic times, Oxford University Press,
Cary, U.K.
[5] P. Weingart and P. Pansegrau (1999), “Reputation in science and prominence in the media: the
Goldhagen debate”, Pub. Underst. Sci. 8(1): 3–16;
P. Weingart (2011), “Science, the Public and the Media – Views from Everywhere”, in M. Carrier and
A. Nordmann eds., Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 274. Science In The Context Of
Application, Springer, Dordrecht, NL, pp. 337–348;
H.P. Peters (2012), “Scientific Sources and the Mass Media: Forms and Consequences of
Medialization”, in S. R¨
odder, M. Franzen and P. Weingart eds., The Sciences’ Media Connection —
Public Communication and its Repercussions, Springer, Dordrecht, NL, pp. 217–240;
M. Franzen and S. R¨
odder (2012), “Exploring the Impact of Science Communication on Scientific
Knowledge Production: An Introduction”, in S. R ¨
odder, M. Franzen and P. Weingart eds., The
Sciences’ Media Connection –Public Communication and its Repercussions, Springer, Berlin,
pp. 3–14;
F. Marcinkowski, M. Kohring, A. Friedrichsmeier and S. F¨
urst (2013), “Neue Governance und die
Offentlichkeit der Hochschulen”, in E. Grande et al. eds., Neue Governance der Wissenschaft:
Reorganisation – externe Anforderungen – Medialisierung, Transcript, Bielefeld, Germany,
pp. 257–288.
[6] M. Binswanger (2012), Sinnlose Wettbewerbe, Herder, Freiburg, Germany.
Frank Marcinkowski is Professor of Communication at the University of Muenster, Ger-
many, where he specializes in media theory, political communication, and science com-
munication. He holds in Ph.D. in political science from Mercator University, Duis-
burg/Essen. Marcinkowski has written articles and book chapters on the role of the media
in electoral politics and referenda, the mediatization of science, the role of the media in
new forms of governance, and online campaigning. E-mail:
Matthias Kohring is Professor of Media and Communication Studies, University of
Mannheim, Germany. His research focuses on trust in media, the public sphere, and
science communication. E-mail:
HOW TO C IT E: F. Marcinkowski and M. Kohring, “The changing rationale of science
communication: a challenge to scientific autonomy”,
JCOM 13(03)(2014)C04.
... The need for medialised communication and attention-seeking has not only led scholarly discussions on the limited role that science communication has played at central/PR offices of universities and the 'push communication' adopted for promotion (e.g. Marcinkowski and Kohring, 2018), but also raised concerns on the consequences of this medialisation for the university itself and the autonomy of science; that is, there are questions about whether it empowers the university by increasing the visibility of science and scientists in the public sphere, or denigrates it by turning efforts towards the operational requirements of competitiveness to the detriment of pursuing their focal research goals (e.g. Peters et al., 2008;Weingart and Maasen, 2007). ...
... Research institutes might pursue their goals, as identified here, and continue growing their efforts in science communication, thus contributing to suppressing the limited role science communication has had in central offices (e.g. Marcinkowski and Kohring, 2018). ...
This research note reports empirical observations on public communication of research institutes within universities, using data from an international quantitative study in eight countries ( N = 2030). The note aims to contribute to discussions on the role of science communication at research universities. We observe growing science communication at the institute level, which indicates, at a first glance, a trend towards decentralised communication of science. We argue that these might be places where science communication and public engagement can thrive. Rather than claiming to be conclusive, our goal here is to stimulate discussion on the ongoing changes in the organisational science communication landscape, and the consequences it may have for practice.
... 'With mediatisation they seem to refer only to social-constructivist or cultural accounts of mediatisation research. However, the 'medialisation of science' perspective bears many similarities to the institutionalist and system-theoretical accounts of mediatisation research well represented in the studies of mediatisation of politics (see e.g., Peters et al. 2008a;Marcinkowski and Kohring 2014). ...
... The increasing market orientation of universities and research organisations has been discussed and analysed by many scholars (e.g., Banet-Weiser 2013; Cronin 2016; Duffy and Pooley 2017;Hearn 2010Hearn , 2015Marcinkowski et al. 2013;Marcinkowski and Kohring 2014;Whitmer 2019;Williams and Gajevic 2014). New ways of self-promotion have become an institutional practice, 'not only for fund raising, but also for student recruitment, career competition, grading, and academic publishing' (Maeseele 2013: 377). ...
Full-text available
This chapter reviews the mediatisation concept, which has recently made a strong impact in media and communication studies, particularly in the field of political communication but also in science communication. It discusses the outcomes and problems of mediatisation research in relation to shifting science communication practices. The chapter introduces the concept of promotional culture in order to put the mediatisation of science into the broader social and cultural context.
... Moreover, information and health procedures have been communicated through a variety of media: radio, television, newspapers, institutional websites, and social media. Unlike other countries [15], however, in Italy the mediatisation of science [16][17][18] has started since the beginning of the pandemic: the Italian media have given a daily visibility to a variety of experts-virologists, epidemiologists, but also physicists and data scientists-often providing different and sometimes even contradictory views on the evolution and management of the pandemic. ...
Objectives: Vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 throughout the world are not only a major organisational challenge, but also a communication and social challenge. Recent data from several countries show that a relevant proportion of citizens either do not plan to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or would rather postpone their vaccination. We argue that such attitudes are not the result of generalised scepticism about vaccination, nor of generalised distrust in science. Methods: We analysed data from three survey waves on attitudes to vaccination against COVID-19 conducted in Italy in October 2020, January 2021, and May 2021 in the context of the Science in Society Monitor. Results: Positive evaluations of experts’ communication and trust in their contribution—as well as in that of health institutions, local authorities, and healthcare workers—play a key role in understanding the willingness to be vaccinated. Conclusion: Relevant implications can be drawn in terms of communication efforts and institutional strategies that are essential to build effective and inclusive vaccination campaigns.
... And that interdependency is even more acute in our modernity, which is characterized by complex regimes of interactions between science, society, culture and politics. That fact is just now being rediscovered by a number of researchers in 'science communication', such as Marcinkowski and Kohring (2014), Gluckman (2016), and especially Fähnirch and Ruser (2019): when they write: '[T]aken together, these diverse interactions, interrelations and interdependencies create a heterogenous and complex patchwork. ' We can add that the will of a number of countries to favour a convergence between research and social issues can only strengthen that dynamic. ...
Full-text available
That science communication applies to both a field of practices and a field of research on those practices seems obvious enough. The very title of the 2020 book, Communicating science. A global perspective—part of an attempt to provide an overview of the way modern science communication has developed over the past 40 or so years, in 39 different countries or regions, reinforced by instructions to the prospective authors—framed the project around ‘science communication’, naturalizing it, encouraging its homogenization and reinforcing it through the peer-review and editing processes (It is worth noting that such a survey was conducted and published on the occasion of the 1994 PCST Conference in Montreal. See Schiele (When science becomes culture, University of Ottawa Press, Ottawa, 1994). But the draft chapters showed that ‘science communication’ is not a universal term. It has many definitions, and from the second half of the twentieth century researchers and practitioners have described it variously as an objective, a goal, a process, a result and an outcome. In this chapter, we have sought to list every term used by the authors and evaluate their degree of penetration of the field, understood as the frequency of their occurrence and as the number of authors using them. Close examination showed that 16 different words or phrases were used in the book for what we called ‘science communication’. Some were confined to a single country, others were applied across a number of countries. Only five authors defined the terms they used, but most did not, probably considering that their meaning was self-evident. This chapter lists and categorizes those terms, grouping them into three categories: ① most mentioned, ② moderately mentioned and ③ least mentioned. Authors tended to use the terminology interchangeably, even though most terms are context specific and tributary to national political, social and cultural trends.
... Concurrently, research organisations, especially large research-intensive universities, are investing in communicating the achievements of their research staff as one of the ways to build their institutional profiles and reputations, and to respond to growing demands for public accountability and service to society (e.g. Marcinkowski and Kohring, 2014;Weingart and Joubert, 2019). ...
Science amplifier platforms such as The Conversation have gained popularity in a changing media ecosystem in which the traditional roles of journalists are eroded, and scientists are urged to engage with society. The Conversation constitutes a blend of scientific communication, public science communication and science journalism, and a convergence of the professional worlds of science and journalism. In this study, we investigated the nature and impact of the Africa-focussed edition of this platform, The Conversation Africa. We analysed articles published over a 5-year period since its launch in 2015 (N = 5392). Contents from South Africa dominate the platform, but contributions from other African countries are increasing. Regarding the role of The Conversation Africa as an inter-media agenda setter, mainstream media more often republished stories related to politics or economics, while stories about social issues such as education, conservation and art were more often shared on social media.
While science communication is increasingly being discussed as a third mission alongside research and teaching, there is little research on how universities and research organizations deal with issues regarding the quality of science communication. This article examines, from an organizational perspective, which new forms of quality assurance processes scientific organizations in Germany apply when addressing quality risks for science communication such as exaggeration in press releases or in the online communication of individual faculty members. Six focus group discussions were conducted with 22 participants (rectors or presidents of universities, heads of communication, ombudsmen, and high-impact researchers). Based on the results, proposals were developed to extend central as well as decentral organizational structures to assure good scientific communication practice. Their possible implementation was discussed in a workshop with representatives of all abovementioned groups. In conclusion, recommendations for future institutional policy are presented.
Full-text available
This article focuses on educational journals asmedium for science communication between researchers and practitioners. Key questions arewhether researchers primarily adhereto sci-entific standards or adapt to media communication conditions, andthe resulting implications for the knowledge communicated andthe research-practice dialoguein educational science. Findings showanadaptation to media criteria and a transfer of expert knowledge rather than scientific findings.
Full-text available
The spread of disinformation about science in social media has been a major concern worldwide, especially at a time of crisis in which all institutions that produce knowledge and truth, including science, are delegitimized or discredited by society. Given this, the purpose of this research is to map the circulation of information on the most frequent conspiracy theories in Brazil, seeking to identify actors, discourses, and interactions on different digital platforms. Using a mixed methodology for identifying informational flows among supporters of conspiracy theories on Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube, the results show that, even though there is distrust about the relationship between science, government and industry, scientific authority is a symbolic capital of extreme importance for the circulation of information on conspiracy theories related to science.
Full-text available
Scientifically substantiated evaluations are pivotal to ensuring the effectiveness and improvement of the growing number of science communication projects. Yet current evaluation practices are still lacking in various respects. Based on a systematic review of evaluation reports, an online survey of, as well as discussion rounds with science communication practitioners in the German-speaking countries, we discuss three main challenges of science communication evaluation: (1) There is a conflation of impact goals and measurable project objectives as well as a lack of precise definitions of objectives and target groups, which complicates the assessment of the projects' success. (2) Although many evaluations highlight the impact-oriented interest of those responsible, the methods chosen rarely allow scientifically valid evaluations of effects. The lack of comparative reference points and the partially unsuitable use of self-report measures are key issues in this regard. (3) The fact that few evaluation processes are made transparent and that formative evaluation designs are a rarity indicates a tendency to understand evaluations as the final ‘success story’ of a project rather than a learning process. This stands in the way of a constructive discussion of the actual impact of science communication. Our exploratory insights contribute to an understanding of the weaknesses of science communication evaluation and needs in the field. They also provide impulses for future improvements in the field for the stakeholders in practice, research, funding, and science management.
Full-text available
This chapter outlines the problem that the Yearbook volume addresses – the science/mass media relation in modern societies – and introduces the medialization concept as an approach to the study of mass media related changes in science both with regard to its institutional and epistemic characteristics. From a differentiation theory perspective we propose to shift from using “knowledge” as a basic concept to “communication” as a superior analytical distinction between science and other social spheres because focusing on communication brings different publics as its reference into the picture. This perspective allows sharpening the question which kinds of mutual relations between different systems really lead to the disappearance of one or the other, i.e. to a blurring of boundaries between science and the media. It enables the analyst to distinguish between any adaptations to “external” expectations and to locate them in organisations, roles or interactions. The central question is if the effects of science’s orientation towards the media – by incorporating mass media related criteria of relevance into communication strategies – remain limited to activities on the front stage produced just for public view or if they extend to the back stage, thus affecting the criteria of relevance in knowledge production.
Full-text available
We have no doubt that AMLE over the coming years will be an excellent forum for theory and research relevant to teaching, learning, and education more broadly. Our purpose in this inaugural issue, however, is to call attention to some metaforces that have dramatically affected the character of management education in the United States and now are spreading internationally. Sometimes the things that most affect education occur outside of education. Sometimes (hose things are of education's own making. Most times, however, they are a combination of external forces and internal willingness to be co-opted by those forces. The forces of greatest moment in the management education domain are the media rankings of business schools. We argue that the rankings are producing an accelerating, Circe-like transformation of business schools from substance to image, a phenomenon that deserves our understanding and proactive engagement.(1)
Full-text available
Ein prägendes Element der wissenschaftspolitischen Reformbemühungen in den letzten beiden Jahrzehnten ist der Rückzug des Staates aus der Detailsteuerung von Hochschulen. Daraus ergeben sich vielfältige Konsequenzen, nicht zuletzt ein verändertes Verhältnis von wissenschaftlichen Hochschulen und interessierter Öffentlichkeit. Waren es die Hochschulen über Jahrzehnte gewohnt, dass die Wissenschaftsministerien der Länder gleichsam als institutioneller Puffer zwischen ihnen und den Interessen der gesellschaftlichen Leistungsabnehmer vermittelten, sind sie im neuen Steuerungsmodell nun häufiger und unmittelbarer als jemals zuvor mit den Ansprüchen ihrer gesellschaftlichen Stakeholder konfrontiert. Der vorliegende Beitrag beschäftigt sich mit einer Reihe von Fragen, die sich aus dieser gewandelten Konstellation von Politik, Öffentlichkeit und Hochschulen ergeben. Wie gestalten die Hochschulen ihr Verhältnis zur Öffentlichkeit? Welche Auswirkungen hat das für die innerorganisatorische Struktur und Kultur von Universitäten und Fachhochschulen? Und welche Rolle verbleibt dem Staat innerhalb der "New Governance of Science"? Auf der Basis einer bundesweiten Befragung von Entscheidungsträgern an deutschen Hochschulen lassen sich zwei Trends konstatieren: zum Ersten eine verkappte Politisierung der Hochschulen, die das wissenschaftspolitische Zustimmungsmanagement weitgehend selbst in die Hand nehmen, und zum Zweiten eine sekundäre Medialisierung wissenschaftlicher Organisationen, weil die verantwortlichen Entscheidungsträger zu diesem Zweck das Rollenmodell staatlicher Politik kopieren.
Full-text available
This article contributes to the debate on the influence of organizational settings on scientists' media contact. Drawing on a quantitative survey of researchers (n = 942) from 265 German universities, the results indicate that a large proportion of scientists from all disciplines participate regularly in the dissemination of research findings. The authors provide evidence that scientists' media efforts are influenced by how they adopt their university's desire to be visible in the media, as well as by the university's PR activities. The increased orientation toward news media is discussed in the light of the new governance of science within Europe.
Full-text available
This study investigated the executive influence of public relations managers in the German higher education system. The study is based on a whole-population survey of German university decision makers (N = 1619). It provides evidence that the mediatization of German higher education offers an important opportunity for the empowerment of university PR departments. They can benefit from the New Public Management reforms in recent years as power shifts to management-oriented administrators and the public image of universities turns into a competitive asset. Nevertheless, an indispensable precondition for PR departments’ organizational advancement resides in professionalization. PR workers need to claim a status of expert boundary spanners between their universities and the public stakeholders.
Full-text available
Science communication is a growing area of practice and research. During the past two decades, the number of activities, courses, and practitioners has steadily increased. But what actually is science communication? In what ways is it different to public awareness of science, public understanding of science, scientific culture, and scientific literacy? The authors review the literature to draw together a comprehensive set of definitions for these related terms. A unifying structure is presented and a contemporary definition of science communication positioned within this framework. Science communication (SciCom) is defined as the use of appropriate skills, media, activities, and dialogue to produce one or more of the following personal responses to science (the AEIOU vowel analogy): Awareness, Enjoyment, Interest, Opinion-forming, and Understanding. The definition provides an outcomes-type view of science communication, and provides the foundations for further research and evaluation.
This paper argues that in media reporting on science, media prominence competes with scientific reputation. That is, in certain cases the media compete with science, both in terms of knowledge claims and in terms of the internal mechanisms of self-direction. This implies that in cases where scientific and media evaluations diverge, the media's control over public attention opens the possibility that priority-setting and evaluation within science are no longer the exclusive orientation criteria for the public's willingness to grant financial support. Taking Luhmann's theory of functional differentiation as a starting point in conjunction with “news-value-theory,” the argument assumes that the media have different criteria than the sciences for selecting scientists and their topics as worthy of reporting (and attributing prominence), an area where the sciences have internal processes of attributing reputation on the basis of excellence in research. The case investigated is the reception of Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners in the German print media over a period of about ten months in 1996-1997. The case demonstrates how media evaluation differed markedly from the judgment by the historical community and provided Goldhagen with a tremendous public prominence.
International surveys of biomedical researchers and of public information officers, along with further evidence, show a medialization of science in the interactions of (biomedical) science and journalism. It is argued that this implies the institutionalization, professionalization and strategic utilization of media contacts by scientific sources on the individual and organizational level. Furthermore, the growing importance of the organizational context for the regulation of science-journalism interactions is shown. Driving force for the media orientation of science is the need for public legitimation of science in general and of research organizations in particular, leading to the goal of media visibility, which in turn requires compliance with the expectations of the mass media. Medialization of science has consequences, first, for the kind of public constructs of research advocated by scientific sources which partly reflect the strategic motives underlying the communication approaches by scientists and research organizations’ public relations departments. Second, there is evidence for a wide-spread consideration of “public resonance goals” by scientists in decisions about research. And, third, the demand for public visibility of scientific sources along with the orientation of the mass media at public relevance and values has consequences for the governance of science because it motivates scientific actors to seek – or at least claim – compliance of their research with public expectations.
University adaptation in difficult economic times
  • P Mattei
P. Mattei ed. (2014), University adaptation in difficult economic times, Oxford University Press, Cary, U.K.
Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 274. Science In The Context Of Application
  • P Weingart
P. Weingart (2011), "Science, the Public and the Media -Views from Everywhere", in M. Carrier and A. Nordmann eds., Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 274. Science In The Context Of Application, Springer, Dordrecht, NL, pp. 337-348;