Sound-bite science: on the brevity of science and scientific experts in western european television news

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Science Communication

Sound-Bite Science: On the Brevity of Science and Scientific Experts in Western European Television News
Piet Verhoeven Science Communication published online 1 July 2010 DOI: 10.1177/1075547010362709 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Downloaded from at UNIV JAVERIANA-BOGOTA on July 2, 2010 Science Communication OnlineFirst, published on July 1, 2010 as doi:10.1177/1075547010362709

Sound-Bite Science: On the Brevity of Science and Scientific Experts in Western European Television News
Piet Verhoeven1

Science Communication XX(X) 1–26 © 2010 SAGE Publications Reprints and permission: http://www. DOI: 10.1177/1075547010362709 http://scx.sagepub.comAbstract Science forms an integral part of our daily lives and plays an important role in democratic deliberation and decision making. One would expect this omnipresence of science to be reflected in television news programs in public broadcasting because of its responsibility to preserve the diversity and openness of the media. For this study, a representative sample of six Western Europeannews programs was analyzed. The results show that science has a marginal presence and that “science news” is about technology or the natural sciences. In national, foreign, or economic news items, “embedded” scientists rarely comment on the issue at hand. Keywords science and technology, television news, embedded scientists, sound-bite science, news values


University of Amsterdam,Amsterdam, Netherlands

Corresponding Author: Piet Verhoeven, Department of Communication Science, Amsterdam School of Communications Research, University of Amsterdam, Kloveniersburgwal 48, 1012 CX Amsterdam, Netherlands Email:

Downloaded from at UNIV JAVERIANA-BOGOTA on July 2, 2010


Science Communication XX(X)

Science1 and technology are an integralpart of the everyday lives of people throughout the world and are strongly connected to almost everything: from the production of material goods to all kinds of administrative systems, from the political decision-making process to the way in which we think and argue about social and personal problems (e.g., Hagendijk, 1996; Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001). Scientific knowledge, together with itstechnological applications, is considered one of the most important forms of knowledge for the advancement of societies. In Europe, for example, 88% of the citizens of the European Union think that scientists who work at universities have a positive effect on society (European Commission, 2005). In line with the societal importance given to scientific knowledge, the role of scientific experts andengineers in democratic decision-making processes has increased over the last few decades (Hilgartner, 2000). Decision making in a democracy requires public deliberation. In modern societies, this deliberation is largely facilitated by news media journalists (Page, 1996). Deliberative democracy that is governed by public deliberation will find this deliberation to be central to the democratic concept(Cohen, 2002). A deliberative model of democracy is, as Habermas (2006) puts it, “interested more in the epistemic function of discourse and negotiation than in rational choice or political ethos. Here the cooperative search of deliberating citizens for solutions to political problems takes the place of the preference aggregation of private citizens” (p. 413). The deliberative model of...
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