Climate Scientists and the Mass Media: Experiences, Orientations, Mediatization

The presentation of science in the mass media is crucial for the societal perception of scientists and their work. The mass media allows a large number of citizens to inform themselves about political, economic, and other developments.  It contributes significantly to how society forms opinions and, in doing so, has almost monopolized communication about certain issues in current affairs. Mass media has, for example, become an exclusive source of information for many people regarding scientific issues.

Accordingly, the relation between science and the mass media has been a major issue in social scientific research in past years. Respective studies have often focused on how certain scientific disciplines are presented in the mass media – such studies exist for stem cell research, genomics, cloning, cold fusion, nanotechnology and also for research on climate change. A second, more current strand of research focuses on the mechanisms behind mass media coverage, i.e., on the interactions, mutual perceptions and experiences of scientists and journalists.

The respective research has been guided, most of the time, by one of two rather different conceptual assumptions:

  • Some (particularly earlier) research understood science and the mass media as two different social systems with mutually exclusive inner logics. Accordingly, when analysing scientists and journalists, these scholars expected to find a deep-rooted conflict between both sides: contrasting views on what scientific issues are worth reporting and which of their facets are important, no understanding for the standards of communication held by the other side, and negative evaluations of each other and of the shared experiences.
  • More recently, the concept of 'mediatization' has gained prominence to describe the interrelations between the mass media and other, different social spheres, science amongst them. The mediatization model argues that science has become more tightly coupled with the media, and that both sides adapt to one another, and are willing to include the other side’s logic, demands and criteria in their own actions. The relation between scientists and journalists is not seen as inherently conflictual here, but as one of mutual rapprochement. Scientists these days, for example, are said to be more media oriented.

Which of these two diagnoses is more accurate is an empirical question. Accordingly, we analyse whether (or to what extent) the relation between science and the mass media has to be seen as conflictual or whether a mediatization of science is visible.

We assess these questions using an online questionnaire of 1,100 German scientists whose research is related to climate change. These scientists represent disciplines as diverse as meteorology, oceanography, forestry, sociology, economics and others.

Involved: Mike S. Schäfer, Ana Ivanova, Inga Schlichting, Andreas Schmidt
Duration and Funding: 2010-2011, Cluster of Excellence "CliSAP"

Publications

Ivanova, Ana, Mike S. Schäfer, Inga Schlichting & Andreas Schmidt (2013): Is there a Medialization of Climate Science? Results from a Survey of German Climate Scientists. In: Science Communication, 35/5, 626-653. DOI: 10.1177/1075547012475226.

Schäfer, Mike S., Ana Ivanova, Inga Schlichting & Andreas Schmidt (2012): Mediatisierung: Medienerfahrungen und -orientierungen deutscher Klimawissenschaftler [Mediatization: Media Experiences and Orientations of German Climate Scientists]. In: Neverla, Irene & Mike S. Schäfer (Eds.): Das Medien-Klima. Fragen und Befunde der kommunikationswissenschaftlichen Klimaforschung.  Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 233-252.

Schäfer, Mike S., Ana Ivanova, Inga Schlichting & Andreas Schmidt (2011): Deutsche Klimaforscher auf der Medienwelle? [German Climate Researchers on the Media Wave?] In: Mitteilungen der Deutschen Meteorologischen Gesellschaft, 2011/3, 20-23.