Russian Scholarly Journals in Science Communication
HSE ISSEK experts conducted a pilot study of the representation of Russian science in the media in order to understand to what extent contemporary Russian academic journals are included into or excluded from the general context of popular science communication. Summary was published in Higher Education in Russia and Beyond latest issue.
In the modern world laced with communications, science cannot develop further if it stays apart from a wider range of economic and social actors. According to Steve Fuller, scientists are now “forced to pay their own lunch”1 in the context of growing competition for limited resources, i.e., they have to meet the expectations of various customers, including not only the state but private corporations and funds too, as well as wider population. This means that the proverbial “ivory tower” has to open its doors to the public and give access at least to the most interesting results of scientific research if not to the secrets of their production.
Traditionally, scholarly journals have been the main channel of science communication. They help lay original discoveries and hypotheses before the professional community. In the era of Internet proliferation, globalized movement for “open science”2 and changing model of communication between researchers and the society aimed at promoting “popular science”3;4, academic journals are becoming part of mainstream information flows. They are becoming a source of knowledge that is used not only within academic circles but also by broader educated public. Most of the time, such communications are facilitated by the media. The latter pick the most striking news from the academia and relay certain topics into the public, thus increasing the visibility of certain research issues and even individual scientists.
We conducted a pilot study of the representation of Russian science in the media in order to understand to what extent contemporary Russian academic journals are included into or excluded from the general context of popular science communication. We were interested in whether mass media cite Russian academic journals when talking about Russian scientists’ discoveries and inventions, and if so, which journals are visible for the lay public.
To gather information, we used Factiva database, covering thousands of media outlets from a number of countries. We obtained the sample of the news items about recent achievements of Russian researchers that were published in Russian-language media in the period of October–December 2016. We believe this is the shortest period possible for research purposes due to the peculiarities of the news cycle and the time gap between the date of publication and its discussion by the general public (it varies from 1 to 8 weeks, depending on the media) [5, p. 46]. Moreover, the chosen period — i.e., the last quarter of the year, when many popular media reflect on the results of the year — helps compensate any possible distortions. In total, from 1768 news about Russian science we selected 202 full-text articles including information about scientific discoveries or other achievements. Sources of this information represented dozens of national newspapers and news websites, regional media, and transcripts of TV programs on several national TV channels. The selection included both long reports and short messages. Then in all of these articles we checked for references to published scientific articles. We were not expecting to find such references in each news item from our selection; nevertheless, we were hoping to get an idea about the role of Russian journals in science communication.
Main Subject Areas of Science Communication
Thematic analysis of the news on the achievements of Russian science showed that Russian media mainly reported on the results of medical research. The natural interest to this topic by lay public and, therefore, the journalists has probably grown recently due the country’s commitment to import substitution, specifically in the sphere of pharmaceutical drugs and medical equipment. Success of Russian scientists in anticancer research was particularly visible in the media in the late 2016.
Figure 1. World cloud visualizing the main results of Russian science represented in the media 5
Other areas that Russia is traditionally strong in, such as physics, chemistry, materials science, and Earth and space exploration, were well-represented in national media as well. Most of the publications in our sample were dedicated to search for potentially promising practical applications of scientific knowledge. Sometimes publications were not only informative but entertaining too (sounding titles included “Russian scientists have managed to produce gold out of coal”, “Russian scientists have discovered how to use marine worms in prospecting for oil”, “Scientists from Tomsk have developed an oil-production method based on the use of beetroot”, etc.). Still, most of the news titles were not so “sensational”.
As for social sciences and humanities, the results of Russian researchers were barely visible in the media. The interests of media outlets were basically limited to public opinion polls. The media mostly referred to the country’s largest pollsters (Levada-Centre, Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM)) and covered a limited number of topics (Putin’s approval rates, economic well-being, attitudes towards the US). Such news were not included into the final sample as it was not clear whether such polls can be considered as scientific research.
Visibility of Scholarly Journals in the Media
Our analysis showed that most (80%) of the media publications reporting on the achievements of Russian scientists did not cite academic publications. It seems that Russian media differ from the Western ones in this respect, because the latter tend to cite scholarly publications in the scientific news. However, such a statement requires further comparative analysis. Russian media reporting on the achievements of Russian scientists rarely mentioned any sources of information at all, and when they did, they usually cited press announcements issued by organizations where scientists worked, interviews with them or public statements by highly-ranked officials. For example in the late 2016, the media widely disseminated a statement by Veronika Skvortsova, Russian minister of health, on the successful tests of the first Russian skin cancer drug.
Figure 2.Publicationsin Russian media reporting on science by types of references
It is important to mention that Russian academic journals were not even once cited were not cited even once in the selected publications, while foreign journals were cited rather frequently (Figure 2). The vast majority of the publications that did have an academic reference were citing foreign scholarly journals. Such “Westernism” of the Russia media is probably purely utilitarian: science news publications are often merely translations of foreign news, so Russian journalists simply copy the references used in foreign media, i.e., references to English-language scholarly papers. Anyway, we see that even when journalists do cite academic journals, these often (and in our selection — in 100% of the cases) are foreign journals.
Low visibility of Russian scholarly journals in popular media calls into question the importance of their role in science communication. Science journalists do not consider them as a valuable source of information about the latest achievements and discoveries of Russian researchers. The probable reason for that in the Russian academia, “the weight” of a statement depends more on the social status of a scientist or other public figure than on the system of scholarly journals. In a way, when researchers introduce a new finding or invention, their social and professional status is likely to be enough to establish credibility.
The fact that national academic journals are basically excluded from science communication makes one question their value for communications within the academia. Despite the limitations of our analysis, the results bring to the table the issue of an extent to which contemporary Russian academic journals serve to disseminate cutting edge scientific knowledge both to professional groups and to wider audience.
1 Quote from S. Fuller’s public talk New Frontiers in Science and Technology Studies given at Higher School of Economics’ School of Philosophy, November 17, 2014 (cit. ex: [in Russian] Abramov R.N., Kozhanov A.A. (2015). Konzeptualizatsiya fenomena Popular Science: modeli vzaimodeystviya nauki, obshchestva i media (Conceptualizing the Popular Science phenomenon: Models of communication between science, society and mass media). Sotsiologiya nauki i tekhnologiy, 6(2). P. 45-59.).
3 Bucchi M. (2008). Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: theories of public communication of science. In M. Bucchi, B. Trench (Eds.) Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology. Routledge: London. P. 57-76.
4 Bucchi M., Nessini F. (2008). Science and Public Participation. In E.J. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M.E. Lynch, J. Wajcman (Eds.) Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Third Edition. MIT: Boston, USA. P. 449-472.
4 McCombs, M. (2013). Setting the agenda: The mass media and public opinion. John Wiley & Sons.
Source: Higher Education in Russia and Beyond, №1(11) 2017