Effects of narrative evidence in science news coverage of genomic research (2020-2024)
About the Project
This project investigates the strategies used by journalists to provide evidence for scientific claims in science news and how such ‘evidencing practices’ ultimately affect the audience. Specifically, we consider narratives as evidencing practices as they allow an intuitive understanding of complex scientific issues.
In the first phase of this project, print and televised German news reports on genomic research were examined for evidencing practices in a content analysis. Results show that almost half of the scientific claims reported are accompanied by narratives. In addition, narratives do not stand alone, but are most often combined with other evidencing practices (i.e. references to authorities or data). Narratives are used to support scientific claims and only rarely to contradict them. Generally, the narratives found in science coverage have a rich narrative quality (or high level of narrativity). Three types of narratives have emerged: stories of (1) the research process and the course of the study, (2) scientists conducting the research and (3) people benefitting from the research or being affected by it.
The second phase of the project is driven by this differentiated view of narratives in science news coverage. Following theories of narrative processing and persuasion, we assume that different types of stories have different effects on audiences. Also, we expect that narrativity (the way in which the plot, the structure and the language of a story are elaborated) plays a significant role. The goal of the second phase is to explore such differential effects of narratives. Three consecutive experiments with cross-sectional samples investigate the effects of narratives on recall, understanding of scientific criteria, and the credibility of studies and researchers. We will systematically investigate the effects of the three types of narratives and of lower or higher levels of narrativity. Narrative engagement – the subjective experience of being immersed in a story – serves as a central mediator.
After having analyzed the dynamics between destabilizing and restabilizing forces on scientific evidence in the content analysis of phase one, we consider this interaction and subject it to a careful test: the second phase specifically investigates the conditions under which stabilizing effects of science narratives actually occur on an individual level. By considering the effects of different narratives of science on audiences, this project explores a mode of communication that is relevant for communicating and negotiating between different cultures of evidencing. In doing so, the project supports a central tenet of the research group by providing insight into the way in which individuals interpret, learn about and accept scientific evidence.
The project will contribute to the fields of narrative persuasion and science communication by developing a differentiated theoretical account of media narratives, and testing specific mechanisms of effects.
Principal Investigators: Prof. Dr. Helena Bilandzic & Prof. Dr. Susanne Kinnebrock
Project managers: Theresa Stahlhut
Project duration: 2020-2024
Funding: Part of the DFG-Research Unit “Practicing Evidence - Evidencing Practice in Science, Medicine Technology and Society“