Headlines in social sciences: visual methods and research PR

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Gillian Rose writes in the Sociological Review about the relation between ‘visual research methods’ and contemporary visual culture: “One of the most striking developments across the social sciences in the past decade has been the growth of research methods using visual materials. It is often suggested that this growth is somehow related to the increasing importance of visual images in contemporary social and cultural practice. However, the form of the relationship between ‘visual research methods’ and ‘contemporary visual culture’ has not yet been interrogated.” Read her article here.

In the meantime, on the LSE’s Impact Blog, Alasdar Taylor warns thatmore science reporting is being done through press releases, many of which tend to exaggerate original research”. “Churnalism”- the practice of reporting press releases or wire copy ad verbatim as news stories is becoming increasingly common, and scientific journalism makes no exception. Consequently, “as the field of science journalism has contracted, the science PR industry has grown to fill the vacuum”.

The problem is that, as  Dr. Andrew Williams, a lecturer in Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies shows in a recent study, “a sizeable proportion of university press releases (30-40%) exaggerated or hyped the research findings or made them more determinist. They also added causal reasons for correlations, made extrapolations from animal research into humans and added other inferences not present in the original publication.”

The recent case of David Cameron presenting misleading/improperly read statistics in a Daily Telegraph article only highlights that this is a discussion we need to be having: while we have access to more information than ever, our attention spans are, if anything, shorter. Images and statistics are both powerful tools for shaping our perception/understanding of the world; but as we attempt to digest as many information as possible in simplified, quick-and-easy form, the picture we get may be (deliberately or not) distorted.

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