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Science for Everybody?

12 March 2009 Technische Universitaet Dortmund

Is the market for science reporting an underestimated one? At least in Germany the mass media have seen an unprecedented boom in science journalism in recent years whereas in other countries experts diagnose a “crisis” of science reporting. Interestingly this boom seems not to be limited to the science sections itself.

An analysis of three nationwide German newspapers at the Chair of Science Journalism at Dortmund University quantified an overall increase of science reporting by 48% between 2003-2004 and 2006-2007. Outside the science sections the amount of articles about science, medicine and technology has even more than doubled within this short time period (increase by 136 %). A remarkable increase could be observed especially of articles dealing with environmental issues (counting for about 6.4 % in the first and 15.0 % in the second investigation period. However, constantly medicine is by far the most popular scientific topic in the newspapers (with about 28%).

In their investigation of a total of 4077 science articles published within the 26 weeks of observation the authors of the study, Christina Elmer, Franziska Badenschier and Holger Wormer, also analysed the probable reasons for science reporting as well as its evaluative tone. Although scientific journals or congresses are still important as a "trigger" for science reporting about 40 % of the analysed articles were prompted by non-scientific events (such as political debates or natural disasters). An inappropriately negative tone in science reporting, as it is often assumed by scientists, could not be observed. By far most of the reporting about scientific issues was positive and often uncritical. However, the evaluative tone differed from subject to subject, e.g. science politics, medicine or environmental issues got more critical coverage than other topics.
While nobody can be sure that the observed popularity of science issues will continue in today's all dominating "financial crisis" the findings suggest that editors and other experts at three important German broadsheet seemed to be in a kind of agreement that science could sell newspapers - which may be true also for other media in other countries where science issues are perhaps less regarded to be interesting for nearly "everybody".

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