Science and evidence in the media spotlight

How was scientific evidence produced, communicated, and socially negotiated during the Corona crisis? To answer this question, media and communication scientists from Augsburg are analyzing around 1,000 newspaper articles from established media sources such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung and BILD.

"Which virologist do you trust most?" was the BILD headline in April 2020. Before Corona, few would have had an answer to this question. But during the pandemic, science moved to the center of public debate, and researchers like Christian Drosten and Hendrik Streeck were thrust into the media spotlight. The media discussed whether their studies were promising and proving, i.e., whether they were producing reliable knowledge. As a result, the media took part in debates that had previously only taken place within the scientific community.

Since November 2021, a research project in Augsburg has been investigating the media's handling of COVID-19 research in the pandemic years 2020 and 2021. The research team is analyzing about 1000 newspaper articles from the coverage of established media sources such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung and BILD. So far, the research team has found that established science journalism uses special textual strategies to construct knowledge about COVID-19 as evident, so-called "evidence practices". "Such strategies consist, for example, of references to the excellence of the researchers involved or to external experts who supposedly support the respective knowledge," explains Prof. Helena Bilandzic, one of the two project leaders.

More scrutiny of new studies

Another observation is that established science journalism is increasingly looking at internal scientific structures and asking to what extent studies by COVID-19 and individual researchers meet the standards of "good" science. "For example, newspapers are increasingly asking whether a new study has been externally reviewed, i.e., whether it has undergone a peer review process," says project leader Prof. Susanne Kinnebrock. In addition, the media are increasingly investigating the relationship between scientists and politics and business in order to determine their motivations.

In a smaller subproject, the team analyzed about 100 articles from the science coverage of alternative media sources such as PI News or NachDenkSeiten. The team found that alternative media sources also used textual strategies to emphasize the evidence of the knowledge presented. However, alternative media were often critical of so-called "mainstream" science and even of so-called "mainstream" media. "This means that alternative media predominantly construct such knowledge as evident that contradicts the government's scientific advisors and the federal government's corona policy course," concludes Markus Schug, a researcher in the project. The final results of the research project will be available by the end of 2023.

Scientific contact

Media Effects and Processes
  • Phone: +49 821 598 5906
  • Email:
  • Room 5050 (Building D)
Public Communication
  • Phone: +49 821 598 5665
  • Email:
  • Room 5040 (Building D)
Researcher and PhD candidate Public Communication |
Media Effects and Processes
  • Phone: +49 821 598 5935
  • Email:
  • Room 5049 (Building D)