Astronomy and Space Science in the European Print Media

  • C. Madsen
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Library book series (ASSL, volume 290)


Among scientists, anectodal evidence abound of ill-chosen and inaccurate, even sensationalistic reporting of science by the mass media. To investigate such claims, articles in ten leading European quality newspapers from six countries were examined over a period of 62 days during the spring 2001. The articles focussed on astronomy, astrophysics and space sciences and -flights, thus covering both fundamental science and technology. Contrary to areas such as molecular biology and nuclear research, which frequently cause public controversies, the areas selected can be seen to represent ‘traditional science’, despite their high profile not normally associated with political or ethical conflicts.

Primarily through content analysis, the investigation identifies salient features of media representations, discusses how and why subjects or particular narrative frames are chosen, and looks at the correlation between general intradisciplinary research priorities and the reporting.

Distinctively different narratives are chosen in the coverage of these disciplines. Astronomy is presented in a narrow, science-oriented, largely epideictic frame; applied research, such as space research, is mostly discussed in the frame of politics and possible applications.

Although the data do not confirm the postulated, generally incorrect reporting, both inherent constraints of the newspaper business and journalistic conventions — as well as the complexity of the subject matter — may lead to distortions. A look at the mediation process and the interaction between scientists and journalists firstly points to inaccuracies occurring from ambiguous terminology, especially the use of paradigm-linked metaphors which have different meanings outside of the scientific fields, secondly that institutions of science are themselves active players in the news dissemination process. Acting as inverted ‘gate-keepers’, they influence both the selection of topics and their representation.

The ‘special status’ which ‘traditional science’ still enjoys in society, linked with a unique relationship between science and journalism lead to an unusually uncritical coverage by the media.


Black Hole Press Release Solar System Research Newspaper Article Science Reporting 
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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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. Madsen
    • 1
  1. 1.European Southern ObservatoryGarchingGermany

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