Disease in the Popular American Press: The Case of Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever, and Syphilis, 1870-1920

Disease in the Popular American Press: The Case of Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever, and Syphilis, 1870-1920

Disease in the Popular American Press: The Case of Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever, and Syphilis, 1870-1920

Disease in the Popular American Press: The Case of Diphtheria, Typhoid Fever, and Syphilis, 1870-1920

Synopsis

"A well-researched, qualitative analysis of how the US mass media covered typhoid fever, diptheria, and syphilis from 1870 to 1920. Ziporyn, a free-lance writer and former American Association for the Advancement of Science mass media fellow, finds consistently high press coverage of typhoid fever contrasted with media disinterest in diptheria and cautious reporting about syphilis. The press's approaches differed, she explains, because the news media responded to dissimilar social values about typhoid fever, diptheria, and syphilis at the turn of the century. Ziporyn's observations are aided by a thorough, well-footnoted analysis of publications across 14 categories." Choice

Excerpt

I first became aware of the "the popularization of science" when I won an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mass Media Science Fellowship in 1979. As a college student majoring in both history and biology, I was intrigued by this fellowship, intended to help promote mutual understanding between scientists and the media by offering seminars on science writing and summer assignments at major magazines or newspapers and radio or television stations. The AAAS hoped that this experience might teach media personnel a little about how scientists thought, while developing sympathies for the media's limitations in fledgling scientists (mainly graduate students in a social, natural, or physical sciences) so that they could handle future calls from journalists--or devote their expertise to educating the public about science.

For some of the Fellows, including myself, this devotion became fulltime. Although we loved science itself, interest in public education made us want to step out of the lab's limited vistas. For me this meant combining interests in writing and biology and becoming a medical journalist: clearly the need was great for writers who both understood medical jargon but at the same time could translate it into plain English. Someone needed to bring perspective to the morass of information descending on the public. Just describing a drug or a theory left readers open to confusion, deception, and apathy--since new drugs and theories, often contradictory, appeared every day: the public needed to know why new scientific findings were significant and how they related to comparable events. Most of all, to distinguish one fact, one article, from the next, they had to know that unspoken assumptions and prejudices were coloring an article's subject matter and conclusions.

My undergraduate degree in history taught me where to look for this perspective: a graduate program in the history of science and medicine. And naturally, studying specific events in medical history gave me some of that perspective. But one place I was able to learn little was in the history of popularization itself, particularly in understanding the way science has reached the public and what has prevented it from doing so more effectively. I suspect this historical gap is related to the popularization of science's relative youth as a field: until recently, the myth goes, most "science writers" were simply journalists who one day happened to be assigned a story on atomic energy . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.