Science News Websites as Mediators between Science and the Public

During the past decades, the relationships between science, media, and the public have been constantly rethought due to the rapid entrance of new media, including social networks that enable access at any given moment to information, multimedia, and bidirectional communication between individuals and groups. And due to challenges posed by science-related issues with social implications, characterized by high levels of uncertainty, include value questions and require citizens to analyze risks and benefits when making decisions. These socio-scientific issues of risk concerning health and the environment are frequently debated in the public sphere, making the media coverage of such topics a public necessity. Generally speaking, formal science education must prepare the future citizens to be able to retrieve relevant science information at the time and in the context of the need for such decision-making. However, it is uncertain whether the formal science education efforts have succeeded. Therefore, informal environments of engagement with science have an important role in communicating science to the public and providing learning opportunities to enhance the public’s understanding of science in daily life contexts. The activity formats of science communication, where the publics are exposed to science, are diversified and reflect at least one of the three acceptable science communication model approaches: i.e., Deficit, Dialogue, and Participation, each of which regards the science-public relation differently and places different goals for communicating science. Each engagement activity contributes to the science communication realm with a potentially different effect on public attitudes and opinions. As the Internet has become the primary way of delivering information in general and the leading resource for those searching for scientific information in particular science news websites have evolved to be an important worldwide media agent and likewise in Israel.
This project investigates four Israeli science news websites that aim to communicate scientific content in Hebrew to the general public in Israel. Shedding light on the operators’ and the users’ perspectives of such online spaces of engagement with science enables a better understanding of these informal learning environments. To achieve these goals, we apply a mixed-methods approach that combines qualitative and quantitative multiple data collections, including (a) interviews with the website operators, (b) interviews with the users, (c) content analysis of the articles, user comments, and discussion threads, and (d) user questionnaire.

This project is supported by Israel’s Ministry of Science, Grant No. 3-15725.

Project members:

Ifat Zimmerman – Ph.D student:

Prof. Ayelet Baram-Tsabari – Head of the applied science communication research group:

Prof. Tali Tal – Dean of the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology of the Technion: