A Review of Thesis
“VERIFICATION AND BALANCE IN SCIENCE NEWS:
How THE NEW ZEALAND MASS MEDIA
REPORT SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS”
It is a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment
of the requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Laura A. Sessions
University of Canterbury
Reviewer of Thesis
Submitted as part of course work
For Ph D Program
Faculty of Management Studies
Charotar University of Science & Technology
Accuracy and balance are fundamental principles of journalism worldwide. The main way that journalists ensure accuracy is by verifying the information in their stories against an independent account. Most journalists who report science must rely on scientific experts to verify the validity of claims they report. However, previous studies have found that science stories commonly contain only one source. Journalists typically maintain balance by fairly presenting opposing views. Previous studies show that when journalists present conflicting claims, they tend to balance the different opinions equally, regardless of the empirical evidence on which those claims are based.
In this thesis, Laura –the researcher, has investigated verification and balance in New Zealand mass media science news, using a national survey and in-depth interviews with New Zealand journalists, and a content analysis of newspaper, radio and television coverage. The content analysis showed that verification was uncommon in New Zealand science news, and only 32% of science claim stories cited more than one source. Furthermore, 23% of stories were five sentences or shorter, and the majority of stories (65%) were drawn from overseas news organisations and wire services. When opposing views were presented, journalists tended to use a balancing strategy without any interpretation of which view was supported by the weight of evidence. The interviews indicated that these practices are partly influenced by time constraints. New Zealand almost completely lacks specialized science reporters, and only five of the surveyed journalists had a dedicated science round. Most surveyed journalists spent less than 20 hours per month reporting science, and few had formal training in science.
However, journalists also said that the normative dimensions of being a journalist were important. In particular, journalists tended to value balance and fairness over ensuring the validity of claims they report. Exploratory focus groups suggested that audiences may also strongly value a balanced and unbiased approach to science reporting.
She starts with two anecdotes science news, the first one- Lyprinol –miracle drug of cancer and second one climate change. These two news about the handling of verification and opposing viewpoints eventually became the impetus for this research. My goals were: first, to determine how representative these anecdotes were of overall science coverage (perhaps in fact I had only stumbled across a few aberrant cases); second, if they were representative, to find out why journalists acted in these ways; and third, to apply this information to suggest improvements for science reporting in New Zealand.
Assumptions of research
In investigating these particular questions, she started with several assumptions. Most importantly, she assumed that independent verification and a weight of evidence approach are desirable, and that science coverage could be improved by encouraging such practices. Although numerous communications scholars concur with these assumptions (e.g. Dearing 1995; Nelkin 1995; Dunwoody 1999; Stocking 1999), not all journalists would agree.
In addition, although she gained a more complex understanding of how the media operates over the past three years, she, being a scientist at heart and a scientific worldview colours this thesis. Perhaps most importantly for this study, she continues to reject a completely relativistic...
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