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The Lure of the Mass Media and Its Repercussions on Science

Part of the Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook book series (SOSC,volume 28)

Abstract

The concept of medialization of science as understood in this contribution rests on the distinction developed in differentiation theory between different functional systems in society. Although it is debated if the media are such a system science undoubtedly is. The crucial criterion is the delineation of different ‘publics’ that are addressed by communication. In the case of science the ‘public’ is that of the respective disciplinary or sub-disciplinary practitioners. The expansion of this public to the mass media poses questions such as what happens to the choice of research questions, to quality control of research findings, to the criteria of relevance and reliability, i.e. to self-referentiality of science in general. On the other hand, there are good reasons to regard the delineation of the relevant publics as ‘fuzzy’ which forces one to consider different forms and degrees of medialization as reality not necessarily posing a threat to the pursuit of certified knowledge. The chapter provides a theoretical discussion of medialization from the point of view of the sociology of science which may serve a framework for empirical studies.

Keywords

  • Knowledge Production
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Media Orientation
  • Broad Public
  • Anthropogenic Global Warming

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term ‘media’ in this context relates to mass media only, i.e., any media which are produced by editorial staffs and are addressed to an unspecific public (regardless of its special profile of interests targeted by the media, see below). The obvious ones are newspapers, television, radio and web-based news media (see Chapter 1).

  2. 2.

    Historically, the role of popularizer has become quasi professionalized at the end of the nineteenth century. Till today borderline examples come to mind: Gould, Dawkins, Sagan, etc. However, they do not falsify the claim.

  3. 3.

    As argued above, this differs among disciplines. In some fields in the humanities (e.g., history, literary sciences), the educated public of highbrow newspapers is a legitimate source of reputation. But even in these fields the ultimate criterion is acclaim from peers, as the Goldhagen case has demonstrated.

  4. 4.

    It is interesting, though not a counter argument, that nano scientists, after having had success with their public propaganda in capturing media and political attention, have shrugged back from it, presumably for fear of becoming its victims (Lit. in Kaiser et al. 2010; for genome researchers see Rödder 2009).

  5. 5.

    This illustrates, by the way, why the orientation to other relevant references is analytically akin to scientific misconduct. In many cases (e.g., Hwang, Schön) media hype triggered by Science and/or Nature played a role.

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Weingart, P. (2012). The Lure of the Mass Media and Its Repercussions on Science. In: Rödder, S., Franzen, M., Weingart, P. (eds) The Sciences’ Media Connection –Public Communication and its Repercussions. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook, vol 28. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-2085-5_2

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