טכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל
הטכניון מכון טכנולוגי לישראל - בית הספר ללימודי מוסמכים  
Ph.D Thesis
Ph.D StudentLaslo Esther
SubjectBioethics on the Israeli Media: A Case Study of Public
Engagement in Science
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisor Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari
Full Thesis textFull thesis text - English Version


Abstract

Recent calls suggest redefining scientific literacy, a key aim of contemporary science education, based on the actual uses of science in daily life. In this PhD project I characterize the expressions of scientific literacy and ethics in an authentic public discourse regarding two bioethical topics. Using qualitative content analysis of thousands of reader comments to coverage of animal experimentation and climate change on the leading Hebrew news site Ynet I explored how expressions of science literacy interact with the immediate media environment (e.g. media framing) and with positions voiced in the comment. The national Israeli science curricula were used as an analytical framework to characterize its real-world suitability as a provider of tools for public engagement with science, including attention to scientific knowledge (examined by the number and level of scientific concepts), perceptions about the nature of science, and inquiry skills. This way I study a research field usually under the “jurisdiction” of science communication using an analytic lens from science education.

Findings show that two to three times more comments referred to content that had been brought up by other comments than referred to content from the original article itself. I suggest that discourse in new media can be understood by thinking of the audience as a “growth medium” in which seeds planted by individual stories can grow into both knowledge of the sort imagined by the story writers, and new branches of knowledge nurtured by the community of readers itself. Over half of the scientific concepts used by the commentators are at the high school or academic level, in which science is elective. This means that in order to take part in the discussion or follow it passively as readers, members of the public need to learn many new science concepts independently?probably from the media.

Most importantly, we found that expressions of scientific literacy do not necessarily go hand-in-hand with the scientific consensus. Many times scientific knowledge is used to support different individual beliefs which are at opposition with the scientific consensus. In the climate change debate more expressions of scientific literacy (in all dimensions) were found in comments written by those opposing the scientific consensus (the skeptic position). In the animal experimentation (AE) discussion more expressions of scientific literacy were found in comments supporting AE, but 16% of the comments opposing AE made rather heavy use of scientific concepts and ideas, and cannot be simply dismissed as being “uninformed” or irrational. These findings challenge the deficit model which sees scientific illiteracy as the root of opposition to the scientific consensus.

Higher level of use of ethics was consistent with more expressions of scientific literacy. Positions that are more challenging morally - like lack of assisting in saving the planet or supporting animal testing, require more rhetorical effort. The ethical content points to the significance of trust in the scientific practice in the context of public engagement with controversial scientific issues. Building public trust in science requires emphasizing ethics in K-12 education alongside scientists' training and science communication.