The Movement of Research from the Laboratory to the Living Room: a Case Study of Public Engagement with Cognitive Science

Neuroethics 9 (2):159-171 (2016)
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Media reporting of science has consequences for public debates on the ethics of research. Accordingly, it is crucial to understand how the sciences of the brain and the mind are covered in the media, and how coverage is received and negotiated. The authors report here their sociological findings from a case study of media coverage and associated reader comments of an article from Annals of Neurology. The media attention attracted by the article was high for cognitive science; further, as associates/members of the Centre where it was produced, the authors of the research reported here had rare insight into how the scientists responsible for the Annals of Neurology article interacted with the media. The data corpus included 37 news items and 228 readers’ comments, examined via qualitative thematic analysis. Media coverage of the article was largely accurate, without merely copying the press release. Analysis of reader comments showed these to be an important resource for considering issues of import to neuroethics scholars, as well as to scientists themselves. In particular, the findings demonstrate how personal experiences were vital in shaping readers’ accounts of their agreements with the scientific article. Furthermore, the data show how scientific research can catalyse political discussions in ways likely unanticipated by scientists. The analysis indicates the importance of dialogue between journalists, laboratory scientists and social scientists in order to support the communication of the messages researchers intend.



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