PHD Comics: Science News Cycle

A fun comic on science news and public science from Jorge Chan’s PHD:

The "cycle" of how science is converted from research to PR to wire service content, to blog conspiracy, then lurid cable news, and local news, and, finally, family folklore.

The “cycle” shows how science is converted from empirical research into institutional PR and from there, to wire service content, blog conspiracies, lurid cable news and local news, until its last stage as family folklore. Of course, this isn’t a complete cycle unless those same scientists are inspired to launch new research based on what relatives tell them!

But Chan’s comment is a great expansion of Bruno Latour’s inscription concept. In Laboratory Life, an early entry in the sociology of science, Latour and Woolgar described how scientists converted observed data into scientific fact through the acts of recording, writing, and presenting their experiments. Researchers use their in-lab inscriptions to prepare peer-accessible scientific papers; the public presentation and validation of science is, of course, the last stage in the scientific method that makes it “science” and not mere experimental play.

Chan’s comic goes beyond the peer-review stage to show how scientific findings are disseminated outside research institutions. It also highlights how several phases of public engagement change the quality of information available, and how much influence science writers have on non-technical readers through academic PR-marketing communications, science blogs and magazines, and cable and local news media that distribute science much more informally.

Science writing has explicit cultural power that not all genres of writing do. From public health scares to grocery food choices, non-technical descriptions of science have incredible influence on public life: what non-technical citizens eat, how advertisers promote food and lifestyle options, which medical and non-pharmaceuitcal interventions doctors promote, what kinds of laws and regulations legislators advance, and how other public health awareness initiatives evolve.

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