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A Review of UK Media Trends in the Coverage of Science and Technology

Grant Holders: Dr Tammy Boyce, Dr Claire WardleProfessor Jenny Kitzinger

Funders: Office of Science and Innovation

Based at: Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies (JOMEC)

The media profile of scientific and technological developments and policy raises key questions about ‘evidence based’ decision making, policy P.R., public involvement and scientific citizenship.

The report was submitted to the Office of Science and Innovation in February 2007, some of the key findings:

  • Science and technology stories are a significant presence in news coverage.
  • The most prominent topic of science and technology is human healthcare technologies. This refers to news items where the central subject is innovation and research for healthcare purposes into anatomical and physiological technologies, diagnostic technologies, or molecular and pharmacological technologies, for example: drug trials; different kinds of scanners; prosthetics; research into new and existing drugs; and transplant technologies. By far the greatest number of such stories concern research into new or existing drugs.
  • Stories about animals are the second most common topic of science and technology news.
  • The great majority of reporting about science and technology is done by journalists who are non-specialists.
  • The most prolific source of science and technology stories is Scientific/University/Medical research, which provided the hook for 30% of news stories.
  • Overall, only 28% of sources on television and 32% on radio are scientists, the most quoted section of the population are members of the public

This project involves a systematic review of UK media coverage of science and technology stories using the following four methods:

  • A content analysis of S&T stories in television, radio and the press over 12 months – complemented by indexing S&T coverage in documentaries and current affairs programmes.
  • An analysis comparing the findings of the above research with relevant government S&T press releases and events (e.g. British Association Festival of Science, National Science Week).
  • Case studies of selected S&T issues – in order to provide a comprehensive insight into why others are ignored. The case studies will also examine the specific trends apparent in each particular story/event under analysis.
  • Our explanatory model will also be informed historically and in relation to findings from interviews with over 150 media practitioners and their news sources already collected by the research team. This will provide a critical and reflexive understanding as to why S&T stories are covered as they are, and examining what influences journalists and their sources when reporting S&T.