Current and Recent Research

Journalistic construction of (un-)certainty: Semantic transformation processes in the reporting of neuroscience

One of the challenges of science journalism is how to deal with scientific evidence. On one hand is science expected to produce reliable knowledge as output, on the other hand is the practice of science characterized by elaborate rules of how to deal with uncertainty. Often enough, researchers disagree about findings and their interpretation, and about the ethical assessment of practical applications of their knowledge as, for example, in the case of "cognitive enhancement".

The project aims at answering the question of how journalism constructs certainty or uncertainty of scientific expertise for the media audience in the reporting on neuroscience. Neuroscience serves as subject area for this study because of its strong social relevance, and because epistemic uncertainties and controversies but also the suggestive power of visual result presentation (neuroimaging) are of central importance.

To gain information about the journalistic transformation of scientific uncertainty, we analyze talks and media interviews between neuroscientists and journalists. In about 25 qualitative case studies the "co-construction" of (un-)certainty by scientists and journalists is reconstructed through the analysis of conversation transcripts and documents.

The project is part of the Special Priority Program "Science and the General Public: Understanding Fragile and Conflicting Evidence" of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Normative expectations in media coverage of research as a form of informal science governance (MediGov)

The project investigates possible steering effects of public communication on neuroscientific research. To this end, we analyze media coverage of neuroscience with respect to its reported compatibility or incompatibility with public values and expectations. Furthermore, by means of focused interviews with researchers of the field we study how the neuroscientific community perceives and responds to the media coverage. We assume that the sensitivity of science regarding public expectations, caused by its need for public legitimization, can be understood as a kind of informal science governance. In order to study the modifying influence of regulation, medialization and cultural factors the research is carried out as a cross-cultural comparison between Germany and the United States.

The project is part of the research program "New Science Governance - Research on the Relationship between Science, Politics and Society (2nd phase)", funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and based on collaboration with the School of Journalism and Mass Communication (Sharon Dunwoody) and the Department of Life Sciences Communication (Dominique Brossard) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.


Joachim Allgaier, Sharon Dunwoody, Dominique Brossard, Yin-Yueh Lo & Hans Peter Peters (2013): Journalism and social media as means of observing the contexts of science. BioScience, 63 (4), 284-287.

Joachim Allgaier, Sharon Dunwoody, Hans Peter Peters, Dominique Brossard & Yin-Yueh Lo (2012): Neurowissenschaften in den Medien: Die Sicht neurowissenschaftlicher Experten. Neuroforum, 18 (4), 304-308.

Joachim Allgaier, Dominique Brossard, Sharon Dunwoody, Yin-Yueh Lo & Hans Peter Peters (2012): Mediennutzung und Einschätzung von Medieneffekten durch Neurowissenschaftler in Deutschland und den USA: Ergebnisse einer Online-Befragung. In C.Y. Robertson-von Throtha & J. Muñoz Morcillo (Eds.), Öffentliche Wissenschaft und Neue Medien: Die Rolle der Web 2.0-Kultur in der Wissenschaftsvermittlung. Karlsruhe: KIT Scientific Publishing, pp. 205-214.

The manifold relationships between science and news media

A comparative analysis of research fields from the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities

Studying cross-disciplinary differences in the interdependencies of science and journalism in Germany is the aim of this project. A comparative survey of researchers of 16 research fields from the (natural) sciences, social sciences and humanities, a survey of journalists reporting on these fields, a content analysis of media coverage, and an analysis of science PR are combined in order to analyze variations of the science-media relationship across research fields.

The project is based on a collaboration of four research teams at:

  • Institute of Ethics in the Neurosciences, Research Center Jülich, Germany
    (directed by Hans Peter Peters)
  • Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Mannheim, Germany
    (directed by Matthias Kohring)
  • Department of Communication, University of Münster, Germany
    (directed by Frank Marcinkowski)
  • Institute for Media and Communication Studies, Free University of Berlin, Germany
    (directed by Alexander Görke).
  • The VolkswagenStiftung supports our research by a grant in the framework of its "Science, the Public, and Society" program.


    Hans Peter Peters, Albena Spangenberg & Yin-Yueh Lo (2012): Variations of scientist-journalist interactions across academic fields: Results of a survey of 1600 German researchers from the humanities, social sciences and hard sciences. In M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.), Quality, Honesty and Beauty in Science and Technology Communication: PCST 2012 Book of Papers (Online Proceedings of the 12th International Conference "Public Communication of Science and Technology", Florence, Italy, 18-20 April 2012). Vincenza: Observa Science in Society, pp. 257-263.


    Interview about conclusions from the scientists' survey, published by the science portal of the Gerda Henkel Foundation (in German)

    Integration of scientific expertise into media-based public discourses (INWEDIS)

    How is scientific expertise communicated via the media and which impact does it have on political decision-making? That's the research question of this project which includes surveys of scientists, public relations staff and decision-makers as well as a media analysis. Some parts of the project are conducted as international comparison. A mail survey of 1,350 biomedical researchers from Germany, Great Britain, France, USA and Japan is completed. Furthermore interviews with 45 public relations professionals of scientific organizations in Germany, Great Britain and France were conducted. The project is part of the research program "Knowledge for Decision-making Processes - Research on the Relationship between Science, Politics and Society (1st phase)". The project includes cooperations with:

  • School of Journalism & Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
  • Science and Technology Studies, University College London, UK
  • Centre Norbert Elias, CNRS & EHESS, Marseille, France
  • Department of Psychology, Kansai University, Osaka, Japan
  • Institute for Environmental Communication, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Germany
  • Publications:

    Hans Peter Peters, Dominique Brossard, Suzanne de Cheveigné, Sharon Dunwoody, Monika Kallfass, Steve Miller & Shoji Tsuchida (2008): Science Communication: Interactions with the mass media. Science, 321 (11 July 2008), 204-205.
    [Electronic reprint]

    Hans Peter Peters, Dominique Brossard, Suzanne de Cheveigné, Sharon Dunwoody, Monika Kallfass, Steve Miller & Shoji Tsuchida (2008): Science-media interface: it's time to reconsider. Science Communication, 30 (2), 266-276.

    Hans Peter Peters, Harald Heinrichs, Arlena Jung, Monika Kallfass & Imme Petersen (2008): Medialization of science as a prerequisite of its legitimization and political relevance. In: Donghong Cheng, Michel Claessens, Toss Gascoigne, Jenni Metcalfe, Bernard Schiele & Shi Shunke (Eds), Communicating science in social contexts: new models, new practices. Dordrecht, NL: Springer, pp. 71-92.

    Hans Peter Peters, Harald Heinrichs, Arlena Jung, Monika Kallfass & Imme Petersen (2008): Medialisierung der Wissenschaft als Voraussetzung ihrer Legitimierung und politischen Relevanz. In: Renate Mayntz, Friedhelm Neidhardt, Peter Weingart & Ulrich Wengenroth (Eds), Wissensproduktion und Wissenstransfer: Wissen im Spannungsfeld von Wissenschaft, Politik und Öffentlichkeit. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, pp. 269-292.

    Sharon Dunwoody, Dominique Brossard & Anthony Dudo (2009): Socialization or rewards? Predicting American scientist-media interactions. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 86 (2), 299-314.

    Hans Peter Peters (Ed.) (2009): Medienorientierung biomedizinischer Forscher im internationalen Vergleich. Die Schnittstelle von Wissenschaft & Journalismus und ihre politische Relevanz. Jülich: Forschungszentrum Jülich. [Final project report]
    [Free online access (7 MB)]

    Imme Petersen, Harald Heinrichs & Hans Peter Peters (2010): Mass-mediated expertise as informal policy advice. Science, Technology & Human Values, 35 (6), 865-887.

    Hans Peter Peters (2012): Scientific sources and the mass media: Forms and consequences of medialization. In: Simone Rödder, Martina Franzen & Peter Weingart (Eds), The Sciences‘ Media Connection – Public Communication and its Repercussions. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook 28. Dordrecht, NL: Springer, pp. 217-240.

    Arlena Jung (2012): Medialization and credibility: Paradoxical effect or (re)-stabilization of boundaries? Epidemiology and stem cell research in the press. In: Simone Rödder, Martina Franzen & Peter Weingart (Eds), The Sciences‘ Media Connection – Public Communication and its Repercussions. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook 28. Dordrecht, NL: Springer, pp. 107-130.

    Anthony Dudo (2012): Toward a model of scientists’ public communication activity: The case of biomedical researchers. Science Communication, published online before print October 10, 2012, as

    US-German cultural differences in social responses to food biotechnology

    The intercultural research includes a public opinion survey in Germany and the US, analyzing the impact of the cultural factors "institutional trust" and "concepts of nature" on attitudes towards food biotechnology, and a media reception study looking at responses of German and US test readers to the same newspaper articles on food biotechnology. This project is based on a cooperation with the Food Policy Institute of the Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, as part of its "Consumer perceptions of food biotechnology" research initiative.


    Hans Peter Peters, John T. Lang, Magdalena Sawicka & William K. Hallman (2007): Culture and technological innovation: impact of institutional trust and appreciation of nature on attitudes towards food biotechnology in the USA and Germany. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 19 (2), 191-220.
    [Free online access]

    Magdalena Sawicka (2005): Die Rolle von Naturbildern bei der Meinungsbildung über grüne Gentechnik - eine deutsch-amerikanische Vergleichsstudie. Umweltpsychologie, 9 (2), 126-144.

    Global climate change in the public sphere

    The project studies the public representation of global climate change and its relevance for coastal protection in Germany. To that purpose we have analyzed media reporting, interactions of experts and journalists as well as media reception by the audience. Our project is part of the interdisciplinary research collaboration "Climate Change and Preventive Risk and Coastal Protection Management on the German North Sea Coast" (KRIM), and was funded by a grant of the German Climate Research Program (DEKLIM).


    Hans Peter Peters & Harald Heinrichs (2008): Legitimizing climate policy: the "risk construct" of global climate change in the German mass media. International Journal of Sustainability Communication, (3), 14-36.
    [Free online access]
    also published in Spanish:
    Hans Peter Peters & Harald Heinrichs (2009): Legitimación retórica de la politica climática: El cambio climático en los medios alemanes. Infoamérica - Iberoamerican Communication Review, (1), 59-78.
    [Free online access]

    Hans Peter Peters & Harald Heinrichs (2007): Das öffentliche Konstrukt der Risiken durch Sturmfluten und Klimawandel. In: Bastian Schuchardt & Michael Schirmer (Eds.), Land unter? Klimawandel, Küstenschutz und Risikomanagement in Nordwestdeutschland: die Perspektive 2050. München: oekom Verlag, pp. 115-144.

    Hans Peter Peters & Harald Heinrichs (2005): Öffentliche Kommunikation über Klimawandel und Sturmflutrisiken. Bedeutungskonstruktion durch Experten, Journalisten und Bürger. Jülich: Forschungszentrum Jülich. [Final project report]
    [Free online access (4 MB)]

    Hans Peter Peters - last modified: 9 Sep 2013