Characteristics of an authentic scientific discourse in social networks – The case of drinking water fluoridation

Author: Doris Asakly

Science popularization is conventionally viewed as external to the world of practicing researchers and to the production and validation of scientific knowledge (Whitley, 1985). Yet sociologists of science demonstrated that scientists communicate research via a plethora of scientific and popular channels in order to gain public recognition and support (Whitley, 1985, Lewenstein, 1995, Allan, et al., 2010). But while the narrative strategies of media actors and professional popularizers have been widely explored (Scott, 2007, Mellor 2012, Journet, 2010, Kirby, 2011, Gouyon, 2015) scientific rhetoric is examined primarily as drawing a boundary between science and popular culture (Gieryn, 1999, Hilgartner, 1990, Myers 2003). More needs to be done in examining how ‘ordinary’ scientists engaging the public link their research with prevalent social and cultural contexts. Rather than focusing on selected cases this paper explores a broad corpus of televised interviews broadcasted live in the Israeli media for the story-worlds that experts rely upon in constructing their narratives. The findings indicate that interviewees use and intercalate the story worlds of the laboratory (Latour, 1987), the clinic (Atkinson, 1995), the natural environment (Myers, 1990), and draw upon science fiction as well as current affairs (Haran et al., 2008). But rather than blurring the boundaries between science and popular understanding (Myers 2003) their narratives align with professional norms of the communication of scientific results. A detailed analysis of their narratives (Georgakopoulou, 2007) reveals their structuring as highlighting the generality of the events narrated rather than their idiosyncratic and particular characteristics. Scientists communicating with the mass media are advised to package their research as a compelling story, avoid technical descriptions and the contingencies they encountered (Gregory and Miller, 1998, Baram-Tsabari and Lewenstein, 2013). These recommendations will be discussed in light of the media practices that this paper will report.