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The relationship between science, the public and the media

Explaining complex scientific findings to the media, society and policymakers represents many challenges. In particular, the publication of findings that indicate potentially problematic developments or dictate an urgent need for action does not always generate an objective debate based on actual facts.

Media reporting on research developments or findings that are of great public – and possibly of political and/or economic – interest are subject to specific constraints such as competition for attention, economic significance, and comparative news value that compels the media to simplify and over-dramatize information.

At the same time, scientific institutes’ communication strategies are increasingly aimed at obtaining public approval. This creates resonance effects, which can intensify or dilute the contents of the information inappropriately in certain cases. Resonance effects can also lead to reactions among the public (in the broad sense, this includes civil society, churches, associations, non-governmental organisations, etc.), policymakers, business and industry that, in the opinion of scientific organisations, bear little relation to the information actually communicated. Put briefly, communication between science and the media is problematic.

Neither side should be blamed for this situation, as the difficulties arise from the structural conditions under which this communication takes place.

Objectives

The statement has two goals. Firstly, it wants to help people to gain an understanding of the unavoidable structural barriers and the communication problems arising from them. Secondly, it wants to explore opportunities for improving communication via a well-thought-out quality management strategy. Additionally, the statement gives recommendations to politics, science and the media.

Institutions

  • German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech (responsibility)
  • Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW) (responsibility)
  • National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina

Spokespersons of the Working Group

  • Prof. Dr. Peter Weingart
    Universität Bielefeld

Members of the Working Group

  • Heidi Blattmann
    Free Publicist, Switzerland
  • Prof. Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer ML
    Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Reinhard F. Hüttl
    German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech, Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Otfried Jarren
    Universität Zürich, Schweiz
  • Prof. Dr. Alfred Pühler ML
    Universität Bielefeld
  • Prof. Dr. Otwin Renn
    Universität Stuttgart
  • Ulrich Schnabel
    Die ZEIT, Hamburg
  • Prof. Dr. Pirmin Stekeler-Weithofer
    Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leipzig
  • Prof. Dipl-Chem. Holger Wormer
    Technische Universität Dortmund

CONTACT

Leopoldina

Dr. Christian Anton

Scientific Officer, Department Science - Policy - Society

Phone 0345 - 47 239 - 861
Fax 0345 - 47 239 - 839
E-Mail christian.anton @leopoldina.org