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"Covering Controversial Science: Improving Reporting on Science and Public Policy"

Working Paper

Spring 2006

Author: Cristine Russell, Senior Fellow, Environment and Natural Resources Program

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: Environment and Natural Resources


As the pace of new developments in science and technology quickens, journalists are increasingly confronted with covering complicated technical information as well as the potential social, legal, religious, and political consequences of scientific research. Avian flu, embryonic stem cell research, genetic engineering, global warming, teaching of evolution, and bio-terrorism are just a few of the topics on journalists' plates today.

More coverage of the complex intersection of science and public policy is needed to help citizens understand the issues. But the resources to do so are limited: print and electronic media have fewer skilled staff science reporters and smaller news holes than in the past. Newspaper science sections, once a popular venue for in-depth reporting, have been declining in number and size and shifting toward consumer-oriented medicine and personal health coverage. At the same time, journalism programs are turning out more trained science reporters than ever before.

Opportunities for science and policy reporting need to be improved, in quantity and quality, with writing that puts the science in context and enhances public understanding of the policy options. New approaches for journalism education and on-the-job training in science coverage are recommended, including novel online opportunities for specialty beat reporting. Guidelines for better coverage of science and public policy are suggested.


For more information about this publication please contact the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at 617-495-8209.

Full text of this publication is available at:

For Academic Citation:

Russell, Cristine. "Covering Controversial Science: Improving Reporting on Science and Public Policy." Working Paper, Spring 2006.

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