The Role of Media in Promoting Awareness and Use of Research-Based Information

When scientists communicate their findings to broader audiences, the medium they use can have a substantial impact on how the information is absorbed and used. In recent years, attention has shifted in science communication from a focus on traditional media sources, such as news broadcasts and journal articles, to social media. The ubiquity of social media has notable implications for the future of scientific communication and its effectiveness in informing public perception and policy. This blog post presents an overview of recent key findings concerning the impacts of media in today’s scientific communication and the consequences of these trends on the role of science in policy and decision making. 

Media and Public Perception 

The media can be a powerful tool in shaping public perception about policy issues. A study by Beall et al. (2022) used a social constructionist framework to study how research frames shape public opinion and action. Participants were assigned to one of two video treatments where sharks were framed positively or negatively. Beall et. al. (2022) found that each video treatment affected tolerance for sharks in the direction of their framing. The authors suggest that positive messages about sharks on social media increase tolerance of sharks and can be useful for changing attitudes towards biodiversity conservation (Beall et. al., 2022).  

While media can be a powerful tool to promote positive attitudes, they may also influence public perception in negative ways. Cressey (2017) reported on public attitudes about banning neonicotinoids as they relate to bee health and the agricultural industry. Research suggests that bee populations are negatively impacted by neonicotinoids, leading to public concern for biodiversity conservation (Cressey, 2017). However, there is variability across global research causing disagreement among scientists about the nature and scale of the problem. While no consensus exists on the effect of these chemicals, policymakers are left to make decisions without a clear answer. Cressy (2017) reported that the varying priorities among different industries and the presence of inconclusiveness in communicating scientific findings have led to inconsistencies regarding the use of neonicotinoids globally. This outcome highlights how the framing of scientific findings can influence decisions. 

Media and Decision-Making 

Beyond shaping public opinion, the media can also have a strong influence on policy formation (Lester & Foxwell-Norton 2020). In Australia, media and communication have been shown to have an integral role in shaping public opinion in environmental debates and decision-making processes. Lester & Foxwell-Norton (2020) depict media as an interconnected and dynamic system and highlight the unpredictability of information pathways within it. Power and conflict are inherent in this system and threaten the established order. Their book chapter provides insights into the complex and evolving nature of mediated environmental communication. 

Lester and Foxwell-Norton (2020) use these insights to offer suggestions as to how scientific communication can be better practiced to influence environmental debates and decision-making. Their suggestions include enhancing communication skills and training among scientists, recognizing and addressing power dynamics within scientific communication, and bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and public understanding. By implementing these strategies, scientists can improve their ability to effectively communicate their research in the media, engage in public discourse, and influence policy outcomes related to environmental issues. 

In the same vein, a paper by Condie et al. (2022) examined the long-term evolution of news media in shaping socio-ecological conflict by focusing on the newspaper coverage of the expansion of finfish aquaculture. They observed how the coverage of only positive aspects of the industry in the early and growth stages of the industry may have contributed to an erosion of public trust by failing to provide an open dialogue on both the risks and benefits. This uniformly positive coverage has had long-lasting impacts on public opinions around the world, which remain a major barrier in the development of aquaculture. The results of this study underscore the importance of understanding the dynamics between media discourse and socio-ecological conflicts to address environmental challenges effectively and how unbalanced coverage in news media can have negative impacts in discussions surrounding scientific research. The findings of Condie et al.’s study contribute to a better understanding of not only how the news media influence public perceptions, but the resulting policy decisions surrounding socio-ecological conflicts. 

By analyzing the evolution of news media coverage throughout the industry life cycle, insights can be gained into the factors that shape public opinion and the potential strategies for managing conflicts and rebuilding trust. The key takeaway from this research is the importance of considering the long-term evolution of community perceptions within the context of an industry life cycle—with an emphasis on ensuring the public is provided with wholistic scientific information on the issue at hand—since skewed reporting can have long-lasting and negative impacts on the public’s ability to trust that decisions were made on sound scientific evidence. Ultimately, this knowledge can inform communication strategies and decision-making processes in future socio-ecological conflicts, facilitating more effective conflict resolution and sustainable development practices. 

On the Medium of Scientific Communication 

Over the last few decades, the communication platforms have changed significantly from traditional or “mainstream” media to online sources and social media programs. Brossard and Scheufele (2022) reflect on the effectiveness of scientific communication within the evolving sphere of social media. They highlight how the traditional methods of scientific communication have become increasingly ineffective in the face of micro-targeting of audiences through algorithms and a general shift from the gatekeeping role of information by traditional media outlets and scientific communicators to social media platforms.  

Brossard and Scheufele (2022) warn of three challenges facing scientific communicators as they attempt to adapt to the changing media paradigm. The first is escaping the informational homophily, or echo chamber, that has emerged around scientists and related actors within a particular field. The second is ensuring scientific communicators resist the temptation to engage in online skirmishes to increase outside attention to scientific issues, at the cost of the reputation for the field. And, the third is grappling with and adapting to the shift in gatekeeping power from traditional actors to social media corporations.  

Brossard and Scheufele (2022) stress the importance of increased cooperation between the scientific community, governments, and social media platforms to strengthen evolving communication practices and to adapt to the emerging technologies and behaviours surrounding social media communication in order to promote the distribution of scientific research and preserve the integrity in scientific discussion. 

Slater et al. (2021) researched obstacles to public science literacy by completing a content analysis of 163 instances of science reporting by printed newspapers in the last decade. They found greater prevalence of “episodic” strategies among newspapers rather than “thematic” approaches, with largely reporting of only dramatic scientific events. The dominance of “outcome-only” stories also erased the socio-political context of the research as well as the methodology of how the research was conducted. This media coverage leads to a lack of transparency and misrepresentation of the scientific research process, causing a lack of scientific literacy in the general public.  

Chen et al. (2022) focused on the differences seen in framing and targeting trends in mainstream media (MSM) and social media posts regarding climate change issues. Through analysis of over 30,000 Twitter posts and news articles published between 2018 to 2021, the research examined how dominant themes and targets found in climate discussions across both media evolved over time and related to one another. In their analysis, Chen et al. found similarities as well as noticeable differences in how both media framed issues concerning climate change, as well as which actors were targeted in the discussion on climate change action.  

The analysis revealed several dominant themes in online discussions and noted that the prevalence of each theme varied over time based on the occurrence of climate events. The main foci across MSM and Twitter showed noticeable differences—with MSM typically centred on discussion and actions at the institutional level and Twitter posts generally concerned with collective actions. Chen et al. found a similar divide in target audiences, with MSM focused on high-level political officials and institutions whereas Twitter posts more often were aimed at youth climate actors. These findings highlight significant differences in how information about a scientific topic is presented in various media and the impact the media can have on how scientific information is disseminated across groups. 


Recent research has consistently found that media are central to how scientific information is conveyed, interpreted, and used to inform key policy decisions. With research casting light on how framing of scientific evidence varies across traditional news media and emerging social media, there is increasing awareness of the importance of media format in shaping debates and decisions around major issues. As many people now use social media as their main source of scientific information, concern is growing that science communication practices have been slow to adapt to the new technologies and behaviours of online media. This situation poses a significant risk to the effectiveness of scientific evidence in informing policy discussions. Improper or biased presentation of scientific information has caused long-lasting damage on public trust, not only in the scientific community, but in the policy decisions of institutions that use scientific knowledge (Condie et al., 2022). With media playing such a key role in scientific communication and decision making, it is equally vital that the scientific community adapt its communication strategies alongside the evolution of media, to ensure research communication remains informative, impartial, and trustworthy in continuing to support effective, evidence-based policy. 



Beall, J. M., Pharr, L. D., von Furstenberg, R., Barber, A., Casola, W. R., Vaughn, A., Peterson, M. N., & Larson, L. R. (2022). The influence of YouTube videos on human tolerance of sharks. Animal Conservation, 26(2), 154-164.  

Brossard, D., & Scheufele, D. (2022, February 11). The chronic growing pains of communicating science online. Science, 375(6581), 613-614.    

Chen, K., Molder, A. L., Duan, Z., Boulianne, S., Eckart, C., Mallari, P., & Yang, D. (2022). How climate movement actors and news media frame climate change and strike: Evidence from analyzing Twitter and news media discourse from 2018 to 2021. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 28(2), 384-413.  

Condie, C. M., Vince, J., & Alexander, K. A. (2022). The long-term evolution of news media in defining socio-ecological conflict: A case study of expanding aquaculture. Marine Policy, 138, 104988.   

Cressey, D. (2017, November 9). The bitter battle over the world’s most popular insecticides. Nature, 551(7679), 156-158.  

Lester, L., & Foxwell-Norton, K. (2020). Citizens and science: Media, communication, and conservation. In W. J. Sutherland, P. N. M. Brotherton, Z. G. Davies, N. Ockendon, N. Pettorelli, & J. A. Vickery (Eds.), Conservation research, policy, and practice (pp. 265–276). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Slater, M. H., Scholfield, E. R., & Moore, J. C. (2021). Reporting on science as an ongoing process (or not). Frontiers in Communication, 5.   


Authors: Mercy Chikezie, Mishell Itkind, & Michael McEachern  

This blog post is part of a series of posts authored by students in the graduate course “Information in Public Policy and Decision Making” offered at Dalhousie University. 

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