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Visual framing of nanotechnology in newspapers

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  • Department of Science Studies

Images are important in communicating science. Images are central to most scientists interpreting each others results and methods, and images convey meanings about science to the general public. Even as the importance of images is beginning to find appreciation in studies of multimodal discourse, very little research into to the visual communication of science in public has been carried out. Nanotechnology is an emerging scientific discipline that just recently has entered the public sphere. Surveys show that most Europeans and most Americans have very little knowledge about nanotechnology. Even so, there is a marked difference between Europeans who generally are cautious, it not skeptical about nanotechnology, and American who seem to have a much more positive attitude towards nanotechnology.

This paper surveys visual images used to communicate nanotechnology (and nanotechnology-related issues) in the printed press in Denmark from 1993 to 2006. Based on a representative sample of newspaper articles referring to nanotechnology, the survey categorizes and analyzes the images used. Studies have shown that to a high degree newspaper readers use images to navigate and understand the articles. It is the objective of this survey to find out if the images used in conjunction to articles that in the text body mention nanotechnology support the general message of the article or, in some way, convey other meanings about nanotechnology.

The study uses the newspaper database InfoMedia to construct a representative sample of newspaper articles referring to nanotechnology. The images found in the sample are coded using an existing analytical framework put forward by Greek science education scholars, Dimopoulos et al. (2003), in their study of visual images in school science textbooks and press articles about science and technology. Also, based on the visual grammar of Kress and van Leeuwen (2nd edition, 2006), more detailed visual analysis of selected images will be carried out.

Results and Conclusions
No results are presently available as the study is work-inprogress. The results will be correlated with an existing study of the textual framing of nanotechnology in the same sample of articles. In this way, the study provides a unique opportunity to compare visual with textual framing. Also, lessons with respect to comparing media framing with public opinion will be drawn. In the above mentioned, European survey of public opinion on science and technology, the Danish population stands out as being the most "positive" in all of Europe when it comes to nanotechnology and the promises of nanotechnology. This positivist attitude can also be found in the textual framing of newspaper articles. Yet, it remains to be shown (and compared across borders) how the visual framing of nanotechnology fits into this emerging picture of public understanding and public communication of nanotechnology.

Original languageEnglish
Publication year2008
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventPCST-10 Bridges to the future - Malmø, Sweden
Duration: 23 Jun 200827 Jun 2008


ConferencePCST-10 Bridges to the future

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