THE NEED FOR CRITICAL SCIENCE JOURNALISM
Too much contemporary science writing falls under the category of ‘infotainment’
“The bulk of contemporary science journalism falls under the category of “infotainment”. This expression describes science writing that informs a non-specialist target audience about new scientific discoveries in an entertaining fashion. The “informing” typically consists of giving the reader some historical background surrounding the scientific study, summarises key findings and then describes the significance and implications of the research. Analogies are used to convey complex scientific concepts so that a reader without a professional scientific background can grasp the ideas driving the research.
Direct quotes from the researchers also help illustrate the motivations, relevance, and emotional impact of the findings. The entertainment component varies widely, ranging from an enticing or witty style of writing to the choice of the subject matter. Freaky copulation techniques in the animal kingdom, discoveries that change our views about the beginnings of the universe or of life, heart-warming stories about ailing children that might be cured through new scientific breakthroughs, sci-fi robots, quirky anecdotes or heroic struggles of the scientists involved in the research – these are examples of topics that will capture the imagination of the intended audience.
However, infotainment science journalism rarely challenges the validity of the scientific research study or criticises its conclusions. Perfunctory comments, either by the journalist or in the form of quotes – such as “It is not clear whether these findings will also apply to humans” or “This is just a first step and more research is needed” are usually found at the end of such pieces – but it is rare to find an independent or detailed critical analysis.
Infotainment science journalism appears to operate under the assumption that if a scientific paper has been peer-reviewed and published by conscientious scientists, the results and conclusions are valid. The peer-review process is equated with a “fact checker” role, thus allowing infotainment science journalism to promote the perspectives of the researchers who conducted the studies” (read more).
(Source: Guardian; bottom image: Science-Ramblings)