Research Topic

Theoretical and Practical Issues in the Epistemology of Science Journalism

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About this Research Topic

The creation and broad public dissemination of unreliable science news is a major source of concern in many contemporary democratic societies. Persistent polarized public opinion over the scientific evidence of climate change and its anthropogenic causes, particularly in the United States and other Anglophone countries, has revealed the extent to which science and science news once operated largely in isolation from democratic politics. Because science news is an important means towards better democratic decision-making and policy formulation and implementation, this polarization has prompted a variety of responses in the science sphere broadly construed. Science communications researchers are examining factors and mechanisms of public misunderstanding of science and public opinion formation on science topics. Scientists and science communicators are working together to avoid misleading press releases and news reports. And science journalists – an at-risk species in the current media environment – are working harder than ever to ensure the reliability of science news.

Because most citizens get their science news from the mass media, the science-to-public and science-to-public-policy pipelines are largely mediated by what science journalists do. Yet the controversies regarding climate change and other scientific topics show that the science media’s mediating role between scientific knowledge and what citizens believe is only just beginning to be clarified. This Research Topic aims to enhance investigation of this role.

We welcome papers investigating theoretical and practical issues in the epistemology of science journalism in the contemporary sociopolitical environment. From an epistemic perspective, science journalism aims at accuracy with public uptake: that is, it aims to provide citizens with accurate, verified, and accessible information about a given scientific topic. What science journalists can and should do to achieve this epistemic aim, however, depends on the socio-political context in which they operate. We seek papers that identify and address theoretical and practical issues science journalists face regarding the best ways of achieving public understanding and acceptance of science, or facilitating responsible critique of it, in the current environment.

Examples of questions that fall under this Research Topic include: Which standard scientific-journalistic practices are being (or should be) reformed, adopted, or abandoned, and with what epistemic justification? What are the best practices for science journalists in a media environment flooded with various forms of fakery and in a context of minimal free speech constraints? How do the best practices of science journalists intersect with those of scientists, science communicators, and political actors to promote or hinder public understanding and acceptance of science results? How should responsibility for the epistemic aim be apportioned among the various contributors to science news and its public dissemination: journalists, scientists, university public relations officials, public and private research foundations, public policy institutes, social media, and others? How can the epistemic aim be promoted in the face of competing personal, professional and institutional non-epistemic interests among these contributors? What makes for responsible criticism of science and scientists of the sort that science news reports should include? How do and should differences in intended audiences and their social situations affect the reporting of scientific uncertainty and probability, choices of experts, and other epistemically relevant elements of science reporting? How might insight into the theory and practice of science news be generalized to other types of news?

We welcome collaborative and single-author contributions from science journalists, scientists, science communication scholars, science policy experts, university public relations personnel, social and political epistemologists, psychologists, and others interested in the mass media’s role in public acceptance (or rejection) and understanding (or misunderstanding) of science. Collaborations with working journalists are especially encouraged.


Keywords: Science journalism, Social and political epistemology, Climate science controversy, Epistemic


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The creation and broad public dissemination of unreliable science news is a major source of concern in many contemporary democratic societies. Persistent polarized public opinion over the scientific evidence of climate change and its anthropogenic causes, particularly in the United States and other Anglophone countries, has revealed the extent to which science and science news once operated largely in isolation from democratic politics. Because science news is an important means towards better democratic decision-making and policy formulation and implementation, this polarization has prompted a variety of responses in the science sphere broadly construed. Science communications researchers are examining factors and mechanisms of public misunderstanding of science and public opinion formation on science topics. Scientists and science communicators are working together to avoid misleading press releases and news reports. And science journalists – an at-risk species in the current media environment – are working harder than ever to ensure the reliability of science news.

Because most citizens get their science news from the mass media, the science-to-public and science-to-public-policy pipelines are largely mediated by what science journalists do. Yet the controversies regarding climate change and other scientific topics show that the science media’s mediating role between scientific knowledge and what citizens believe is only just beginning to be clarified. This Research Topic aims to enhance investigation of this role.

We welcome papers investigating theoretical and practical issues in the epistemology of science journalism in the contemporary sociopolitical environment. From an epistemic perspective, science journalism aims at accuracy with public uptake: that is, it aims to provide citizens with accurate, verified, and accessible information about a given scientific topic. What science journalists can and should do to achieve this epistemic aim, however, depends on the socio-political context in which they operate. We seek papers that identify and address theoretical and practical issues science journalists face regarding the best ways of achieving public understanding and acceptance of science, or facilitating responsible critique of it, in the current environment.

Examples of questions that fall under this Research Topic include: Which standard scientific-journalistic practices are being (or should be) reformed, adopted, or abandoned, and with what epistemic justification? What are the best practices for science journalists in a media environment flooded with various forms of fakery and in a context of minimal free speech constraints? How do the best practices of science journalists intersect with those of scientists, science communicators, and political actors to promote or hinder public understanding and acceptance of science results? How should responsibility for the epistemic aim be apportioned among the various contributors to science news and its public dissemination: journalists, scientists, university public relations officials, public and private research foundations, public policy institutes, social media, and others? How can the epistemic aim be promoted in the face of competing personal, professional and institutional non-epistemic interests among these contributors? What makes for responsible criticism of science and scientists of the sort that science news reports should include? How do and should differences in intended audiences and their social situations affect the reporting of scientific uncertainty and probability, choices of experts, and other epistemically relevant elements of science reporting? How might insight into the theory and practice of science news be generalized to other types of news?

We welcome collaborative and single-author contributions from science journalists, scientists, science communication scholars, science policy experts, university public relations personnel, social and political epistemologists, psychologists, and others interested in the mass media’s role in public acceptance (or rejection) and understanding (or misunderstanding) of science. Collaborations with working journalists are especially encouraged.


Keywords: Science journalism, Social and political epistemology, Climate science controversy, Epistemic


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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