Enhancing the visibility of the social sciences through journalism

Organizers: Giuliana Tiripelli (De Montfort University, Leicester England) & Daniela Ovadia (Centre for Ethics in Science and Journalism, Milan; University of Pavia)

While science journalism makes continuous efforts to cover the hard sciences, the relation between journalism and the social sciences is more ambiguous. Social scientists’ work is covered by journalists (Dunwoody 1984), but the social sciences are still perceived as “non-scientific” and less reliable. Therefore, they tend to be covered by non-specialised journalists, in culture or politics sections (O’Grady 2021, Jerrim & de Vries 2015, Gutting 2012). Our preoccupation is that, by doing so, journalism contributes to mixing social science knowledge with common sense approaches and opinions in the public debate, instead of framing it as the output of scientific evidence. Critical theories and empirical studies become disputed, as audiences can reject them on the basis of their cultural backgrounds and opinions (e.g. gender theories).

These approaches make it difficult for the social sciences to inform the public about the structures and dynamics shaping society, about the links between materiality, ideas, identity, and fears, and about the importance of empirical evidence versus the ambiguity of direct experience. However, publics seem more eager than ever to find explanations for their material and social frustrations, their individual fears and loss of identity, in a fast-changing society.

How can journalism make the science behind the social sciences more visible and able to inform and enrich the public discourse?

We plan to bring together experts of journalism and experts of science communication from around the world, to answer this question. The workshop will develop a discussion about journalism coverage and the need for enhanced visibility of the social sciences in the public debate, and about journalistic practices that could facilitate such visibility.

Format: The workshop will be fully online, and open for everyone to attend. The organizers will recruit the main speakers, which will be announced later on. The event will be a round table, followed by a Q/A & discussion session for attendants to engage with speakers.

References

Dunwoody S. (1984) Mass media coverage of the Social Sciences: Some new answers to old questions, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 5:2, 83-92 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02560054.1984.9652936

Jerrim J & de Vries R. (2015) Can social science still be used as a foundation for public policy? On improving the reliability of evidence, Dec 7, LSE blog https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2015/12/07/can-social-science-research-still-be-used-as-a-foundation-for-public-policy/

Gutting G. (2012) How reliable are the social sciences?, The New York times blog May 17 https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/17/how-reliable-are-the-social-science/)

O’Grady C. (2021) Unreliable social science research gets more attention than solid studies, Science 21 May https://www.science.org/content/article/unreliable-social-science-research-gets-more-attention-solid-studies