Uses of expertise: Sources, quotes, and voice in the reporting of genetics in the news

P. Conrad

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    151 Citations (Scopus)


    Science journalists call upon experts for background and for clarification and comment on scientific findings. This paper examines how science writers choose and use experts, and it focuses on several cases of reporting about genetics and behavior. Our research included two sources of data: interviews with 15 science reporters and three print media samples of coverage of genetics and behavior - alcoholism (between 1980-1995), homosexuality (in 1993 and 1995), and mental illness (between 1970-1995). Science reporters seek relevant and specific experts for nearly every story. Good sources are knowledgeable, are connected to prestigious institutions, are direct and articulate and don't overqualify statements, and they return phone calls. The mean number of experts quoted was 2.8 per story, differing for alcoholism (3.5), homosexuality (2.8), and mental illness (2.6). Researchers and scientists predominated among experts quoted. Quotes were used to provide context, give legitimization, as explication, to provide a kind of balance, and to outline implications. For the homosexuality sample, a significantly greater percentage of activists and advocates were quoted (21 percent compared with 5 percent and 1 percent in other samples, X <0.0001). "Lay" quotes for alcoholism and mental illness were minimal. Except for homosexuality, whose advocates are organized, those "affected" do not have a voice in genetics news stories.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)285-302
    Number of pages18
    JournalPublic Understanding of Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Oct 1999

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright 2004 Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam. All rights reserved.


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