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Campus inSaint Petersburg

‘British Sociologists Have Found...’ or the Problem of Cooperation of Social Sciences with the Press

On March 7, 2013, Grigory Tarasevich, science department editor at the Russian Reporter magazine, delivered a report on ‘“British sociologists have found...” or the problem of cooperation of social sciences with the press’ at the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research.

On March 7, 2013, Grigory Tarasevich, science department editor at the Russian Reporter magazine, delivered a report on ‘“British sociologists have found...” or the problem of cooperation of social sciences with the press’ at the HSE Laboratory for Comparative Social Research.

In Russia, the expression ‘British scientists have found...’ refers to the standard design of science news headlines. The phrase has quickly become a humorous one and reflects an important issue for science in the Information Age: how can researchers transform their results into an attention grabbing headline for popular science publications or the wider press?

The speaker pointed out that this is an important problem both for science and humanities. But the humanities are in a worse position. This is due to the fact that, for example, biologists or physicists have established and proven communication frameworks for presenting the results of their research to a mass audience.  But there are no such clear patterns of news making in the humanities. That’s why attempts by sociologists or political scientists to gain coverage for their findings often do not look convincing.

This situation is related to another problem of the humanities. Grigory Tarasevich noted that the humanities are not perceived as ‘real science’ by the readers of non-scientific journals.  The reasons for this can be seen in the fact that social scientists (as well as psychologists and linguists) tend to draw conclusions in the most understandable way for their audience when describing their findings in popular magazines. However, the absence of scientific expressions and vocabulary not only trivializes the news, but also raises doubts about its trustworthiness.

At the end of the seminar, an active learning experiment was conducted. Grigory asked the staff of the Lab to create a headline for a popular non-scientific journal using the results of any LCSR research project. Eduard Ponarin presented the findings of a study into the roots of anti-American sentiments in post-Soviet Russia, and participants of the seminar formulated several versions of a newspaper headline describing the paper. In turn, Grigory Tarasevich helped to identify some common errors that scientists make when they try to do journalists' work.

by Yuri Voynilov