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Media reporting of neuroscience depends on timing, topic and newspaper type

By N.M. (Nienke) van Atteveldt, S.I. (Sandra) van Aalderen-Smeets, C. (Carina) Jacobi and N. (Nel) Ruigrok

Abstract

The rapid developments in neuroscientific techniques raise high expectations among the general public and therefore warrant close monitoring of the translation to the media and daily-life applications. The need of empirical research into neuroscience communication is emphasized by its susceptibility to evoke misconceptions and polarized beliefs. As the mass media are the main sources of information about (neuro-)science for a majority of the general public, the objective of the current research is to quantify how critically and accurately newspapers report on neuroscience as a function of the timing of publication (within or outside of periods of heightened media attention to neuroscience, termed "news waves"), the topic of the research (e.g. development, health, law) and the newspaper type (quality, popular, free newspapers). The results show that articles published during neuroscience news waves were less neutral and more optimistic, but not different in accuracy. Furthermore, the overall tone and accuracy of articles depended on the topic; for example, articles on development often had an optimistic tone whereas articles on law were often skeptical or balanced, and articles on health care had highest accuracy. Average accuracy was rather low, but articles in quality newspapers were relatively more accurate than in popular and free newspapers. Our results provide specific recommendations for researchers and science communicators, to improve the translation of neuroscience findings through the media: 1) Caution is warranted during periods of heightened attention (news waves), as reporting tends to be more optimistic; 2) Caution is also warranted not to follow topic-related biases in optimism (e.g., development) or skepticism (e.g., law); 3) Researchers should keep in mind that overall accuracy of reporting is low, and especially articles in popular and free newspapers provide a minimal amount of details. This indicates that researchers themselves may need to be more active in preventing misconceptions to arise

Year: 2014
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0104780
OAI identifier: oai:repub.eur.nl:59371

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