Genetically Modified Headlines

When researchers and public information officers understand how the media select and shape news stories, they can predict what aspects of scientific research will gain media attention and even how the interpretation of that research may shift over time. How these groups should use this knowledge raises questions of ethics. This case focuses on a journal article published in the academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that was strongly criticized, in part, for its potential to be taken out of context by political advocates. In this fictionalized case study, the authors of the journal article are now presented with an opportunity to promote their study in the mass media by issuing a press release. Questions presented in this case include:

  • How do the responsibilities in communicating science through academic journals differ from communicating through press releases?
  • How should politically sensitive science be communicated to a general audience?
  • When, if ever, can researchers appropriately be held responsible for the social impacts that result from their public communication with the media?

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