Parallel Session 32: Science and media research
Richard Holliman, Open University, United Kingdom; Brian Trench and Declan Fahy, Dublin City
University, Ireland; Isabel Basedas and Gemma Revuelta Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain; Utz
Lederbogen, Freie Universitaet, Berlin; Elsa Poupardin, University of Paris 7, France.
Page 2 PCST Conference, 4-7th December 2002 – Cape Town, South Africa
present initial findings from a "snapshot’’ of science reporting in French, German,
Irish, Spanish and United Kingdom newspapers during April 2001.
Science stories or science-based stories were collected from newspapers in each
country over a four-day period. We were not aiming to produce detailed quantitative
findings but rather to indicate trends and tendencies. So, while we did have reason to
consider carefully the criteria for inclusion or exclusion of specific stories, we do not
offer detailed tables or precise comparisons.
We compiled print media samples for each country that were intended to reflect some
of the diversity in the newspaper marketplace. This approach represented a departure
from the more usual concentration in science news studies on elite newspapers with
specialist science coverage. In each of the country samples there were popular or mid-
market newspapers with no specialist science staff as well as (mainly) elite
newspapers with science editors, science correspondents or other designated
specialists in the domain. The numbers of newspapers sampled for each country were
France (7), Germany (8), Ireland (9), Spain (5), United Kingdom (8), representing a
total of 37 newspapers.
We then identified a period of four days – 26, 27, 28, 29 April 2001 (Thursday to
Sunday inclusive) – during which we would collect from our respective press samples
any items that we defined as ‘science stories’ or ‘science-based stories’.
The selection of the date range was based partly on pragmatic factors, i.e. when it
suited us to do the exercise, but also on the knowledge that April 27th 2001 was Sun-
. It was also based on the knowledge that most science reporting tends to
take place in the later days of the week because of the publication of several
prestigious scientific journals on these days.
For the study, we developed a definition of a science story as one which:
included a significant explicit scientific content, namely a reference or
references to scientific findings, scientific research, scientific procedure, science
as an intellectual activity or scientists in their professional capacity.
In this range of science stories we included social science research and government
reports on social issues that were based on formal social science research. We also
determined that medical stories should be included if they included elements of
explanation of a scientific process, or of a disease’s effects. The much more numerous
references to matters or personal health and lifestyle, or the passing references to
healthcare policy and administration, did not merit the inclusion in our samples or the
articles containing those references.
Using this definition of a science story, this study examined, among other issues,
whether newspapers in different countries used the same sources for items of science
news, and the same range of sources when reporting those items, whether the same
general types of scientific research were covered, and whether differences in the
reporting could be explained by specific factors within a culture. One specific issue,
Sun-Earth Day was an event sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA). Its aim was to
promote the work of ESA’s solar observatories.