Are science stories inherently boring? A comparison of public engagement with science and general items on two popular news sites

Author: Yael Barel-Ben David – Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Israel

Ayelet Baram-Tsabari – Faculty of Education in Science and Technology Technion – Israel Institute of Technology
Erez Garty – Davidson Institute – the Educational Arm of the Weizmann Institute of Science

In many countries the public’s main source of information about science and technology is the mass media. Unfortunately, in recent years we witness the collapse of traditional journalism all over the world with science journalism being a major casualty. One potential remedy is to encourage scientists to write for news media about science. On these general news platforms scientists’ stories compete for attention with other news stories on hard (e.g. politics) and entertaining (e.g. celebrity news) topics written by professional writers. Do they stand a chance?

In this research project we ask: when published on the same platform, is there a difference in public’s engagement with science items written by scientists and general items written by the website’s organic reporters? To measures users’ behavior, we used data from Google Analytics on number of clicks, likes, comments etc. The sample included 200 science items written by 30 graduate STEM students trained to contribute popular science stories at the Davidson Institute of Science Education reporters program and published on two major Israeli news websites – ‘Mako’ and ‘Ynet’ between July 2015 to August 2017 and January 2016 to August 2017, respectively. Each science item was matched with another item on various topics, written by the websites organic reporters, and published on the same channel as the science story (e.g., tourism, health) and more or less at the same time (+/- 3 days of publication).

Based on preliminary results of 67 paired news items of the 200 collected, no significant difference in the public’s engagement between the different items was found: people did not click, liked or commented more on general stories than on the science stories written by scientists. Full analysis will be presented at the conference.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Science
Area of interest: Investigating science communication practices