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Although I study all kinds of science journalism, I’m especially interested in media coverage of environmental news. I want to know why so many people care so passionately about the environment while others couldn’t care less. Why are some discoveries about the environment seen as dangerous, threatening, or a problem while others aren’t? What role do media play in this process?  


Pursuing answers led me down some unexpected pathways. News coverage of the environment, it turns out, frequently appeals to both scientific reason and to feelings about nature that aren’t scientific at all.


Below are links to some of my published research.

If science journalists knew more about science they might cover their beat better, or so some people say. But this could be a tough sell in today’s downsized, disrupted newsroom environment. Before starting such an ambitious project, news people should learn more about how contemporary science journalists actually practice their craft as well as broader knowledge about how any profession adopts new ways of doing things.

How well do journalists handle numbers? Not very, according to many studies, even though the news is full of them: vote totals, budgets, crime figures, even weather. To understand this problem better, I posed some new questions to a sample of working journalists: What kinds of numbers do journalists favor?  How are numbers incorporated into journalistic routine? How well do journalists understand the ever-present social and politics processes that decide what is counted and what is not, define categories of things or people, and set the boundaries between categories and between data and noise? These issues grow more critical with the advent of big data and its incorporation into journalism.


My research showed many journalists believe measured knowledge, as a concept, cannot be argued with, ruling out alternate ways of thinking about an issue. These essential but imperfect numbers shape public perceptions of the size and scope of the things they were created to measure, including the social problems much news focuses on. But the frequent simplification of journalism means the calculations and judgments behind the numbers take place offstage so to speak, hiding their contingency and the choices made in creating them. 


Translated into the newsroom, my research can help journalism students acquire not only data journalism skills, but an understanding of the ways seemingly neutral and objective statistics are constructed and what can be legitimately inferred from them. This can help them see beyond reductive and essentialist ideas about data and can especially help people and perspectives that may be marginalized in the news learn how to challenge and question official views of reality. 

Most people, especially minorities, rely in public water systems for their water supply. But this vast infrastructure of pipes and reservoirs and treatment plants can’t function without sustained political support. What keeps that support going? A survey found that people with altruistic values were more likely to support good water systems. Distressingly, people with negative attitudes toward minorities believed just the opposite.

How do Hispanic immigrants think about the environment? Is there anything about their particular background or culture that affects their environmental beliefs? Do their beliefs change as they become more acculturated to American life?

Because media messages shape our views of the environment, you might think people in developed countries, with more news media, have stronger environmental views than people in developing countries. Surprise: it turns out people in countries with less developed media systems actually have a stronger sense of environmental citizenship than people in developed countries—the exact opposite of what you’d expect.

The 100th anniversary of the death of the passenger pigeon produced many articles and editorials deploring human impact on nature. Analyzing these stories produced some intriguing insights into how people think about endangered species and wildlife in general. Most stories blamed the pigeon’s loss solely on hunters—a human failure. But wildlife biology says it’s more complicated than that--population dynamics and food supply also played a role. It was a lesson in how media sometimes use an existing stock of cultural meanings rather than actual scientific findings when they portray nature.

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