Communicating Uncertainty: Media Coverage of New and Controversial Science

Communicating Uncertainty: Media Coverage of New and Controversial Science

Communicating Uncertainty: Media Coverage of New and Controversial Science

Communicating Uncertainty: Media Coverage of New and Controversial Science

Synopsis

Exploring the interactions that swirl around scientific uncertainty and its coverage by the mass media, this volume breaks new ground by looking at these issues from three different perspectives: that of communication scholars who have studied uncertainty in a number of ways; that of science journalists who have covered these issues; and that of scientists who have been actively involved in researching uncertain science and talking to reporters about it. In particular, Communicating Uncertainty examines how well the mass media convey to the public the complexities, ambiguities, and controversies that are part of scientific uncertainty.

In addition to its new approach to scientific uncertainty and mass media interactions, this book distinguishes itself in the quality of work it assembles by some of the best known science communication scholars in the world. This volume continues the exploration of interactions between scientists and journalists that the three coeditors first documented in their highly successful volume, Scientists and Journalists: Reporting Science as News, which was used for many years as a text in science journalism courses around the world.

Excerpt

Perhaps the most common outcome of the scientific process is not facts, but uncertainty. Ambiguity about what is true and what is not is so ubiquitous that one could define scientific expertise not so much in terms of accumulation of knowledge but by the skill of recognizing and managing uncertainty. the acknowledgment and management of uncertainty is one hallmark of good science. But how do journalists fare when trying to convey the complexities, ambiguities, and controversies that are the visible manifestations of scientific uncertainty?

Examining scientific uncertainty and how it is constructed and interpreted is one of the goals of this volume. Exploring the actions and reactions that result when journalists report about scientific uncertainty is another goal. This volume concentrates on new and controversial science, types of science that often find their way into the public arena. Although we believe that all science is inherently uncertain, chapter authors focus on areas where public communication of science is an integral part of the action and where journalists are most active.

Another one of our goals is to look closely at three of the actors involved in the scientific communication process -- scientist, journalist, and audience -- and analyze how each actor responds to and copes with scientific uncertainty. To do so, we go beyond anecdotes and "war stories," however fruitful, to feature research by leading science communication scholars. We also seek to explore interactions among the three actors and ask communication scholars to focus on specific scientific issues whose uncertainties have received much attention in the public arena.

To add multiple voices to the conversation, yet another goal of this volume, we incorporate many different points of view in panel and roundtable discussions. Among the natural and physical scientists who participated in these discussions are a Nobel Laureate and the director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), both of whom are also past presidents of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); a MacArthur Foundation grant-winning scientist and author in his own right; and the director of major environmental assessment efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency. Social scientists are represented by a specialist in science, ethics, and public policy, and by the former head of a social science division of the nsf, who is now provost/vice chancellor of a major university. Journalists include a Pulitzer Prize winner, past presidents of both the Council . . .

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