Towards evidence based policy in science communication in Israel

Cite As:
Barel Yael, Baram-Tsabari Ayelet, Peleg Ran, Armon Rony, Raveh Ayelet. Towards evidence based policy in science communication in Israel Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 2015.

Modern society presents its citizens with many day-to-day needs that influence the quality of life and are linked to science and technology such as transportation, medical information and nutrition. Given that science is a major facet of modern life, and the mass media are its greatest form of dissemination, it is crucial to examine what information is conveyed to the public via the media.

Most of the studies concerning the extent and nature of science coverage in the mass media concentrated on a specific medium or scientific field. In Israel, no systematic research has been done to test and evaluate the representation of science in the news media. The main goal of this report is to systematically examine the scope and characteristics of scientific items in the Hebrew-speaking news media, in an attempt to identify and characterize the scientific information the Israeli public is exposed to and uses to make its decisions.

A database of science-related news items published in the radio, television, print and online news media was constructed over a period of six consecutive months, from October 2013 to April 2014 by the researcher and Samuel Neaman's information specialist. Sources were chosen as a function of their popularity, extent of exposure and other key factors (e.g. public vs. commercial channels). These were manually scanned for scientific news items.

Over the study period, a total of 1064 items were collected and cataloged from the sampled media-sources. Overall the frequency of science items in the scanned sources comprised of about 1.8% of the news items, and 1.1% of the volume (pages, number of words, airtime) of the news published at that time. These numbers are substantially lower than the coverage of science reported in the UK and the US in the media, which stand on 4.6% (in the public broadcast) and 3% (public and commercial media), respectively. As in previous studies, the most common science topics presented in the Israeli news were life science (32.8%) and medicine (25.8%) and was found mostly in newspapers (44.3%). In the majority of cases, the science items described local (28%) or American-based (30.1%) research, that study new (39.2%) and basic research (55%). Items relied on a scientific source of information (a scientist or a peer-review magazine) in more than half of the cases.

The majority of items in the database (57%) was written or broadcasted by designated science journalist emphasizing the importance of such roll in the advancement of science-public communication.

News values attributed to science seems to vary by the field. In that way items in the field of life science and medicine become news mostly by providing good news (27% & 29% respectably). While physics is linked mostly to entertainment (32%) or as contemporary events (21%).

In regarding the research methods used in the portrayed science item, no difference was found between scientific fields, meaning that the majority of the science topic items presented to the public, to some extent, with the research methods in use in the covered research.

The roll of visualization in mediating science to the public can be crucial, as the common phrase goes – ‘one picture equals a thousand words’. The usage of pictures in a scientific item can help conveying the scientific message. It may help the reader to place the research field, understand the story or at least to what it is related to. An authentic picture (25.8%) or an illustrative one (31.8%) can be used to show products of the research, the place where it was conducted or the scientist in charge of the discovery. Another form of visualization is diagrams, graphs and charts depicting the course of the study at hand or its results. The later form of graphics was rarely found in the database accept for items in the quality newspaper ‘HaAretz’ in 11% of its items (2.6% of the total).

The analysis of these features contributes to the understanding of the science presented to the public through the mediation of the Israeli news media. According to the findings, a scientific item will be most likely published in the printed media at the local news section, it will be about life science. The item will probably report on a new, basic, Israeli or American research by the source's science journalist (if one exist) and its representation appears to be mostly positive and uncritical.

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