Raed's Blog

Science and the Media

In its very beginning, the Media, risk and Science book for Stuart Allan acknowledged the “speed of which the conceptual agendas of cultural and media studies are changing”. In fact, while going through the first chapters of the book, various debates and ideas unfold. I think it is important to capture the context during which the book was published – by 2002 – in order to draw contrast between the relationship between Media, Science and Society in a historical, contemporary and future contexts, which eventually may help us to identify a pattern for these constantly evolving strands.

A discourse, debate or conflict?

I thought it is necessary to provide brief philosophical perspective first before jumping to the the details. When ever I tried to dig deep to realize ideas, I end up on Wikipedia jumping from one topic to another and reading philosophical articles. The bad thing is, it is a time consuming process, but the good thing is, it provides me with answers.

White coated scientists who believe in the experiment as main source of knowledge production and truth claims are ideologically conflicting with philosophers (social and human scientists, historians …) who believe that reason and reasoning is the main sources of knowledge production and truth. In short, philosophers use logic and reason so they claim the existence of absolute truth, while the white coated scientists believe in the experiment that provides contextual truth – based on empirical foundations. Although, I came from a background in computer science, and I value the experiment and its contextual truth, but I value more reason and absolute truth particularly when it comes to core ideas about ideology and epistemology.

It is an interesting exercise and debate that I’ll refer to in future posts, but for now, and before returning to our core subject of Science and Media. I feel compelled to record the importance of reason and absolute truth for the supreme dilemma of scientists – and for ordinary people as well: I’ve known and met many accomplished scientists or researchers who embarked on human rights and social justice tracks after or while pursuing graduate or post graduate research in science and/or technology. In fact, if happened that you asked one of them about the new shift in his or her attitudes, s/he may answer and say “well, I am a humanist”. In other tragic stories, I’ve heard and read many tragic and unfortunate stories about weird-beard scientists who committed suicide, by jumping from the tallest building in-campus, after finishing their post doc studies. Definitely there might be hundreds of reason behind such tragic actions, but I think that purposefulness in life, which actually based on epistemological and ideological precepts, might has a lot say about these stories.

Why science is important to the public?

While going through Allan Stuart book, we touch the critical issue of the public confidence of science and publicizing science. The author emphasizes this issue as he analyzes a report titled “Science and Society” by the British House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology (March 200). The report shows “serious crisis of public confidence in the biological and physical science and their respective technological applications”. This “crises of confidence” in science may actually spark many questions, media is definitely one of questioned fields that might hold answers to the confidence issue in science. The following points might be of help in tackling arguments around the popular face of science and the public confidence:

Assuming that there was no crises of confidence before the report, it is clear that media has played a role in formulating this crisis. But, how can media really affect the public opinion?  One argument may say that media provided to the people more access and exposure to the media, and that media was a tool that exposed negative aspects in science, thereby, facts revealed and people realized the unfortunate truth about biological and physical science. Second argument is that science was/is misrepresented in the media, and that media has manipulated science facts and provided disguised picture of the physical and biological science. Third argument is that the report and it surveys were conducted on a time people in the UK were blaming scientists for the delay in finding a scientific treatment for the “mad cow disease”. Finally, it also could be mixture of all of the above three arguments.

Epidemic diseases that threaten the public definitely affect public opinion, and therefore the image of science that is suppose to find prompt treatments. Drawing on HIV-AIDS experience in the US, not finding a proper quick treatment to the AIDS did not only affect scientists’ image negatively, but it also open doors for activists to be part of the game and affect the epistemic practices of biomedical research, which may emphasizes that science is not autonomous and the public image is important (Steven Epstein, 1995).

The above arguments lead us to the core of our subject: the image of science in the media, one sort of media to highlight is journalism.


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