Communicating Uncertainty: Media Coverage of New and Controversial Science

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Sharon M. Friedman, Sharon Dunwoody, Carol L. Rogers
Erlbaum Associates, 1999 - Education - 277 pages
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This work, by the editors of "Scientists and Journalists: Reporting Science as News", explores scientific uncertainty and media coverage of it in such major public issues as AISA, biotechnology, dioxin, global warming, and nature vs. nurture. It examines the interrelations of the major actors in constructing and explaining uncertainty: scientists, journalists, scholars, and the larger public. Part 1 examines participants in the scientific uncertainty arena and how the major actors react to, cope with and manage uncertain issues. It also describes how scientists and journalists vie for control over uncertain science. The panel discussion at the end of this section is a spirited discourse on how they handle scientific uncertainty. Part 2 explores instances of scientific uncertainty in the public arena, highlighting studies involving uncertainty and biotechnology, dioxin, human resources for science, and human behaviour. The panel discussion concluding this section reacts to several of these specific issues and adds other perspectives about handling uncertain science. Part 3 concentrates on issues of audience and methods for more effective communication about scientific uncertainty. It focuses on the importance of understanding audiences and their needs, how to explain complex information to readers and viewers, and how to better understand and present statistical evidence through systematic thinking. The roundtable discussion is a wide-ranging review of journalistic practices and their impact on the treatment of scientific uncertainty. The editors try to tease apart constructions of scientific uncertainty to help readers understand how these constructions affect scientific and lay beliefs about science and technology as well as how government policies and regulations dealing with uncertain issues are influenced and formed.

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