Sunday, August 05, 2007

Science as conflict: The frame's still there ...

This week's Newsweek cover story, unfortunately, puts an end to any hopes that journalists may finally have realized that conflict and horse race frames do little to promote informed public discourse about scientific issues. Here's an excerpt from the Newsweek story.
If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. ...

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do."
And the Newsweek article is right on target in assuming that interest groups and think tanks play a large role in shaping public (mis)perceptions. But none of this would be possible, of course, if news outlets like Newsweek didn't almost automatically buy into any conflict frame that these think tanks and interest groups feed them.

Decades of research on public opinion formation have shown that mass media are a key source of people's perceptions of opinion climates, i.e., of perceptions about what everyone else thinks.* And if the public makes judgments about scientific consensus, they rely primarily on what they learn from news media ... or from Newsweek covers like the one this week.

* See for example Scheufele, D. A., & Moy, P. (2000). Twenty-five years of the spiral of silence: A conceptual review and empirical outlook. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 12(1), 3-28.