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Monday, 2 March 2009

Who let the gene genie out of the box?

When a science journalist sits down to write an article, the last thing they have in mind is that an academic somewhere will use the piece as in a research project. But that is just what Rebecca Carver did in her doctoral work on "Genes in the media" at the Institute for Basic Medical Sciences (IMB) at the University of Oslo.

Not content with writing her PhD and a journal paper, Dr Carver has colluded in the creation of a press release on her work Oslo-scientists have found the media gene. In this we read:

“We chose to analyse the national newspapers Aftenposten, VG and Dagbladet from Norway; The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Sun from the UK,” Carver explains. “We randomly selected a total of 300 articles, including commentaries, features, news stories and news briefs that referred to the gene concept in various ways.”
There then follows a detailed description of different uses of the "gene" thingy in these media. You will have to read the paper in "the important international journal EMBO Reports, issued for the European Molecular Biology Organization" for the full details.

Carver's key message seems to be that "journalists and editors, striving for a catchy news story, often convert a relativistic message into a deterministic one". Guess what, it all comes down to the "titles and bylines". As Carver pouts it "we have found that the titles and bylines are often deterministic whilst the relativistic and evolutionary frames tend to be present further into the article".

Carver, who has also has a "Master degree in Science Communication from Imperial College London," wants to hear from science reporters. As Carver and Jarle Breivik, her supervisor, put it, “We hope our work will increase awareness of how we communicate the gene concept, and would like to come into contact with both scientists and journalists.”