Needs more arrows

But I like it anyway. It’s a series of charts illustrating channels of communication of science.


I appreciate the distinction made between “Average Citizen” and “Informed Citizen.” Maybe there ought to be another box interposed between “Mainstream Media” and “The Average Citizen” labeled “Fox News/Talk Radio/Other Organs of Propaganda,” though. And shouldn’t there be another arrow from “Mainstream Media” to “Informed Citizen”?


  1. Grimmstail says

    I do not get much if any science information from mainstream media. Generally, By the time they are reporting it, it is usually old news. Maybe a very, very thin, dotted arrow to the informed citizen.

    Ha! All of this is assuming I am an informed citizen, of course.

  2. guthrie says

    Thats only a start. There should be an arrow between “university press release” and “main stream media”, since that is where some papers get their science. They tend to mess it up though.
    There should also be an arrow between “Scientist” and “Main stream media”. This channel is usually pretty busy at grant time of year.

  3. PhospholipaseJason says

    I’m not sure if this is common everywhere, but here in the Philadelphia radio market the NPR station (WHYY) always says “The media and Fox News”, which I always took as meaning Fox News isn’t media. Of course it’s not, but it still always puts a grin on my face when I hear them say it over the airways.

  4. PaulC says

    It seems that informed citizens occasionally communicate outwards, exclusively through science blogs, but average citizens are a knowledge sink. This is probably inaccurate, as there are more of them, though it’s true that most people are more likely to talk about football than the private life of meerkats.

    Maybe we need a third category: misinformed citizen. The arrows in are from folklore, common fallacies, and stuff they heard from some guy who’s friends of an expert. The arrows out go all over the place, directly to average citizens, and include letters to congresspeople, boycott threats, and their own blogs. This might give a more accurate picture of where most people’s understanding of science comes from.

  5. Larry Moran says

    There should be three other arrows pointing at the average citizen. One from “church,” one from “friends and relatives,” and one from “non-mainstream media.”

    These three other sources are far more important than the mainstream media. Perhaps the diagram is only meant to show the transmission of correct science information?

    Where does the World Wide Web fit in? Are sites like the Talk.Origins Archive insignificant or are they covered by blogs–a much more recent invention? I’d like to think that some average citizens read science websites.

  6. says

    Well, FOX News is technically media by definition. Not good media, and I’d hesitate to call it news, but they’re undeniably media.

    Moreso than an arrow between Informed Citizen and Mainstream Media, there should probably be an arrow between Informed Citizen and Average Citizen! I know I, for one, share cool science articles and blog posts with many of my friends who don’t seek such things out themselves. And the fact that I read this blog directly and they don’t apparently makes me Informed and them Average, so there. ;)

    What I don’t get on the graph is the two boxes marked Scientists. Are those representing two distinct kinds of Scientist, or is it a way for the graph author to represent Scientists talking to, erm, themselves? Looks like the arrows tend to flow left-to-right between the two Scientist blocks, and the right-hand block has no connections to Science Blogs or University Press Releases, so maybe they’re different kinds of Scientists or maybe the graph author ran out of arrows. ;)

    Still, if it were me, I’d have made feedback loops for Conference presentations, “arXive, preprints”, and journal articles. Because I like feedback loops. Although, come to think of it, they would just reduce to double-headed arrows, and that would be boring.

  7. Joshua says

    Hey! Also! Do Scientists really never talk to Mainstream Journalists? Never ever? Sure, the Mainstream Journalist mostly just grabs a soundbite and moves on, but they still do interview Scientists occasionally.

    And the reason FOX News and Other Organs of Propaganda aren’t represented is that they and their viewers pretty much constitute a closed system completely that doesn’t interact with any of the rest of the diagram, thus the graph was simplified by cutting them out completely.

  8. says

    I am an average citizen and I get my science information from magazines, books, and the web. But individual choices matter a lot. Discover or Scientific American? I realize neither is Nature (which is over my head) but the best I can do is choose SciAm. Ditto for MIT Technology Review over Wired And I do read TalkOrigens and several sciencebloggers including PZ.

    So there’s probably a lot of stratification in the ‘average citizen’ level. I try as hard as I can to use good sources that are within my grasp. Some people seem to be drawn to the flakiest sources they can find. Maybe it would be a good post to go into how to make those choices.

  9. says

    Like the title says, it could use more arrows. What I like about it is that it makes explicit the amount of isolation the average citizen has from sources of scientific information, and the red additions suggest how we can shorten that path distance.

  10. N.Wells says

    There needs to be another loop, preferably twisted & broken & with feedback loops on itself, from “mainstream media” to “average citizen” via a box labelled “Preachers and IDists”.

  11. David Harmon says

    I’d say depending on the MSM would make citizens less informed!

    How about some wiggly or twisted arrows, representing where “certain parties” tend to get things wrong, if not purposefully distort the facts?

  12. xebecs says

    Perhaps the arrows could be modified in additional ways — dashed lines, etc. — to convey the probable correctness of the information, the redundancy of the messaging, and other such values.

    In common with Grimmstail and decrepitoldfool (I find myself in good company!) I distrust “science news” in the mass media until confirmed accurate on science blogs or reputable secondary sources like SciAm. The mass media is more of an “alert source” — something interesting may have happened — than an information source.

  13. speedwell says

    Re Fox: It sure isn’t [i]culture[/i] media!

    Considering what grows there, maybe it is culture media.

  14. says

    Maybe there ought to be another box interposed between “Mainstream Media” and “The Average Citizen” labeled “Fox News/Talk Radio/Other Organs of Propaganda”

    No, that arrow shouldn’t point to “The Average Citizen”, it should point to “The Disinformed Citizen.”

  15. Krakus says

    Mainstream media does occasionally talk to Sceintists, but they seem to get it wrong. A former colleague of mine was presenting results at a conference of a transgenic mouse study where knocking out a certain gene prevented mice predisposed to developing breast cancer from developing cancer. There were a number of journalists at the conference and one of them published that the lab had ‘cured’ cancer. When my colleague got back home (to Canada)he spent the next week explining to the media outlets that they had NOT cured cancer but merely showed an interesting genetic interaction between two genes.

  16. Steve LaBonne says

    Just about any scientist who has ever had to talk to a reporter will tell you that s/he would have preferred to have a root canal instead. With rare exceptions they are quite remarkably stupid and ignorant, and trying to get them to understand anything is torture (trying to get them to actually write it up non-misleadingly is flatly impossible, don’t even bother.)

    Of course in the US at least, political reporting is just as useless as science “journalism” nowadays…

    May the “mainstream media” die a slow, exquisitely painful, and very well-deserved death.

  17. Burgess Shale says

    Hey, what about us Below Average Citizens?
    We walk in the woods, we find a watch, we know there’s a watchmaker.
    We see a waterfall, we know there’s a waterfall maker.
    We find a snowflake, we know there’s a snowflake maker.
    We find conjoined twins, we know there’s ….. etc. etc.

    Don’t need no fancy theory stuff to prove THAT, do ya?

  18. Bob O'H says

    So, if PZ wants to talk to another scientist-blogger, he either has to blog about it, or find an intermediary scientist to pass on the information. And it has to be one who doesn’t write press releases.



  19. Mena says

    It needs an arrow after the whole process which passes over the average American’s head. The information has been presented to them but they choose to not believe it in favor of things that they are told to believe in instead.

  20. says

    Thanks for the link–my sitemeter has gone through the roof. I’ll work up a second version of this chart. Since everyone has suggested more arrows, I’m worried about keeping it readable.

    Joshua: There are two scientists blocks to represent how scientists communicate among themselves. The arrows are mostly one way because I wanted to emphasize to my class that some forms of communication are not interactive.

  21. says

    I haven’t seen a study on the issue, but I would bet that scientists make up a large proportion of the market for science popularizations. After all, biologists usually can’t understand physics papers and physicists can’t usually undersand biology papers so everybody ends up reading Discovery.

    By the way, does anybody have a handle on the total market size for popularized science, i.e. popular science magazines and science books for the layman?

  22. says

    PZ wrote:

    And shouldn’t there be another arrow from “Mainstream Media” to “Informed Citizen”?


    Informed citizens don’t pay attention to mainstream media.

    PS. … unless you count surfing to newspapers from abroad.

  23. Mooser says

    Shouldn’t there be an arrow going straight from the scientist to the average citizen and labeled “pillow talk”?

  24. says

    Ideally, I’d like to see a box “philosophers of science” in there somewhere, as well as “government science policy group” and a few others, both connected in with relevant arrows, of course.

  25. Janey says

    Like Keith I think there are a few groups missing from the diagram. A number of private institutions/companies also do research, not just public universities. In the public sector there are also schools/teachers and museums and science centres. Does mean the diagram will become even more messy!

  26. miko says

    Notably missing is government.

    More notably there should be a distinction between academic science and private science… the latter often does not publish or communicate findings in the same ways as academic science, but certainly tout discoveries in the mainstream press.

    Then of course there is pseudoscience, think-tank “science,” etc, that feeds government and mainstream media…

    Overall this is a pretty rosie scenario.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson says

    It was an interesting blog, and I will probably read the posts about the evolution of female orgasm.

    The diagram could certainly be finessed. The arrow from Popular Science Publication to Informed Citizen should probably be dotted. There should be a box about books. And there should be arrows from conference presentations and arxive over blogs to the Informed Citizen. In principle, I could search the arxive, but I’m not reading it for a living. Any papers or web proceedings I read are introduced from blogs or other articles.

    Putting more categories in would clutter the diagram. Then it probably needs another representation.

    The unidirectional arrows over articles can be interpreted such that the left scientists box is the primary researcher, and the right the remaining society being informed of the research. Of course, papers are made in answer to the primary ones, so scientists switch boxes in the diagram on the timescale of paper production.

    Good catch on alert sources! But I must confess I use mainstream media as information on medicine or health – if at least two presented results correlate, I tend to believe they are on to something useful.

    Unfortunately, as in ‘easier’ research such as physics, these trends may nevertheless be shown wrong years later. If a series of results can’t get a particles mass anywhere near correct until the resolution of the experiments are much narrower than the error estimates, how difficult isn’t it in medicine?

  28. says

    I responded to Jim over at my blog, but I think I will cross post here. I can think of several categories of people who aren’t scientists who read popular science.

    1. Environmentalists and outdoorsy types who read popular biology and ecology.

    2. Science Fiction fans who read popular physics.

    3. Sick people who read about their disease.

    4. Parents who read about childhood development.

    5. IT professionals who geek out on everything.


    Finessing, yes. I should contextualize: I made these charts for a 100 level course on scientific reasoning that I teach. I made them in the hour before class.

    I should put in books, but this only complicates the issue of what kind of science we are talking about. Some sciences are more book oriented than others. As Kuhn noted long ago, the more normal the science, the less book oriented.

    ArXive is in a weird position. Perhaps it also should be in the red box of publicly accessible databases.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson says

    “I made these charts for a 100 level course on scientific reasoning that I teach. I made them in the hour before class.”

    Good job!

    “I should put in books, but this only complicates the issue of what kind of science we are talking about.”


    “ArXive is in a weird position. Perhaps it also should be in the red box of publicly accessible databases.”

    Yes, you are right. Just because I personally don’t use it directly doesn’t mean it couldn’t be so used… duh!

    I liked the new diagram too, with the ever more distant feedback loops.

  30. Tom says

    One more vote for books !
    Most teachers and scientists read books.
    Often books are written from a set of conference papers,
    but it is not always the case (like very old books).

    Also sometimes science progress is not so fast (mathematics),
    and really require slow media and a little bit of patience.
    I tend to be confused by amount of information that goes around and I doubt anybody is really putting enough attention to details when reading it, they just get excited about not very deep thoughts and slogans.
    i.e. I don’t waste time reading this blog, cause it would just make a mess from my brain..

  31. Tom says

    Also.. there is no such group as “average citizens”.

    You also forgot about industry/engineering, all the people that strive for new ideas, solutions and tools.

    Oh yes, but I forgot you are doing something more like “dogmatic science”… that main goal is to generate slogans that are against other slogans.