Sounds Of Silence: Weekly Science Sections In Newspapers Drop From 95 In 1989 To 19 In 2012

Columbia Journalism Review published the sorry statistics:

Thank goodness an understanding of science is not more important in people’s lives today than it was in 1989.

Actually, the situation is even worse than those numbers indicate. They are really for daily newspapers in the U.S. that run weekly science and health sections.

As a 2006 Shorenstein Center analysis cited by CJR points out, of the remaining science sections in 2005:

… more than two-thirds focus primarily on health in their titles, up from about 50 percent in 1992. In comparison, the sections that self-identify as “science” dropped from 30 percent in 1992 to 12 percent in 2004. The rest—18 percent today versus 21 percent in 1992—were listed as a combination of “health” and “science.”

The Washington Post is a classic example. This is the section they run every Tuesday.

And a quick look at the paper or their web page makes clear that the word “health” is first for a reason — the overwhelming majority of stories are health related and not aimed at  educating the public about science in general.

If only the media had a clue that the story of the century is also about the greatest threat to human health (see, for instance, this 2009 post, The Lancet’s landmark Health Commission: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century”).

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11 Responses to Sounds Of Silence: Weekly Science Sections In Newspapers Drop From 95 In 1989 To 19 In 2012

  1. kob says:

    This is not a problem. There’s more science reporting today than in 1989 because of this little thing called the Internet, and blogging. Pure science reporting was never a strength for most newspapers.

    The CJR focus on science sections misses a larger point. What’s needed are reporters, especially those who cover Congress and government, who have a better grasp of things like climate science.

  2. Joe Romm says:

    Uhh, where exactly is this science reporting for a general audience? Not on any major TV channels. Radio? As if.

  3. Endofmore says:

    the USA produces 44 law graduate for every 1 engineering graduate—that says it all

  4. Henry says:

    Well, there’s a huge Nor’easter scheduled to hit our area Friday and Saturday so I’m sure some MSM stories will link it to AGW =\

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Dumbing-down the public is essential to the survival of neo-liberal capitalism. If the serfs really knew what was in store for their children (and them, if they are under about 40) they might grow restless, and harsher means to control them might be required. So, you see, in their infinite wisdom and mercy, our Masters have decided to stupefy the proles rather than chastise them. They are such kind-hearted creatures, and know best what is good for us.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    These figures confirm the cultural problem is not improving. What do Americans believe in or want? Jobs, health and global leadership? So why not a series of subtle and funny ads about the benefits of dealing with climate change for these factors, e.g. ‘let’s show the world how to do it’, ME

  7. Chris says:

    But the newspapers still have the horoscopes! Can’t lose those.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Does the rest of humanity desire ‘American leadership’? I sincerely doubt it.

  9. Ed Leaver says:

    I sincerely hope the rest of humanity desires ‘American Leadership’ in one crucial aspect: how to generate reliable zero-carbon electricity short-term cheaper than coal.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    US technological and scientific input will be crucial, but, in these fields, it is a matter of collaboration and collegiality, not leadership and followership.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The rest of the world neither wants it or needs it Mulga, we both know that. I am suggesting ways that ‘social marketing’ can start to get over their little denier and cultural blockages, ME