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The stories of science

An EU study examined the communication between scientists and journalists. Analysis of recorded television interviews revealed certain patterns of narrative structure and vocabulary choices that scientists generally use.
The stories of science
It is well documented that scientists and journalist have different, perhaps conflicting, styles of communication. Yet, the form of such interactions affects the shaping of science news.

The EU-funded NARRATIVE/ SCIENCE (Weaving stories, explaining science – Scientists and journalists on the air) project linguistically examined the way scientists speak to journalists. The study included the narrative and metaphoric strategies by which experts communicate their knowledge. Investigations reflected the role of such rhetorical devices in popularising research.

Data for the analysis came from an existing body of 150 interviews of 140 scientists, conducted by Israeli television between 2009 and 2011.

Results showed use of various narrative strategies. Most common was a first-person account, oriented to the scientists' research. The narratives used were mainly offered to provide scientific explanations or in response to questions.

Analysis also revealed that scientists focused their narratives on social and cultural scenarios familiar to the audience, or about the topics of scientific study. Most stories came from a particular domain, yet 43 % shifted between story-worlds.

The study documented use of 3 162 metaphoric words, the vast bulk of which did not include scientific terminology.

Researchers also analysed responses to requests for expert medical advice. Answers were generally elaborated, qualified and somewhat structured as narratives.

NARRATIVE/ SCIENCE furthermore ran a linguistics training programme for its researchers, mainly including workshops and seminars. Training focused on an interactional approach to language usage. Key topics included narrative and conversational analysis, linguistic ethnography, functional grammar and critical discourse analysis.

The study supported development of a new type of training workshop intended for experts and science graduates. Such training has brought effective results because it was realistic and avoided hypothetical guidelines for media communication.

Related information

Keywords

Science, scientists, journalists, narrative, science news, NARRATIVE/ SCIENCE, linguistics
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