Wednesday, March 07, 2007

UW Press Release: TV coverage of nano triggers emotional rather than information-based responses

As nano is beginning to emerge on the media agenda, a forthcoming article in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly suggests that different news outlets can trigger very different reactions to nanotech coverage. In our study, respondents who seek out general science and nanotech-related news online or in newspapers also tended to be more knowledgeable about this new technology.

People who depended more on television for their science and nano news, in contrast, did not gain significant levels of knowledge, but instead deferred to scientific authority when making judgments about nanotech research. Part of the explanation for that phenomenon lies in the episodic nature of television coverage which often focuses on the human interest aspects of emerging technologies, and the relative absence of scientific information on television, where for local news, for instance, most news stories are restricted to 30 second segments.
"March 7, 2007

TO: Reporters, news directors

FROM: Michael Penn, (608) 262-2679,


As the emerging field of nanotechnology enters the public consciousness, mass media play an important role in shaping public attitudes about the new science. But newspapers, the Internet and television do so in significantly different ways, says Dietram Scheufele, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a paper published in the current Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Scheufele and Chul-joo Lee of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication find that newspapers and the Internet help people better understand nanotechnology research, but television news accounts have a more emotional effect.

While television promotes public acceptance of nanotechnology, it does so by creating an air of deference to scientific authority, with little effect on viewers' understanding of the science, the authors write. Scheufele suggests the brief time allotted to television news segments and its focus on personal stories, rather than in-depth scientific explanations, may be insufficient for promoting understanding of the complex science.

CONTACT: Dietram Scheufele, (414) 241-4774,