SURVEY RESULTS: What do People want from Science Media?
In short, they hate clickbait. But here is more detail from nearly 400 consumers of science media.
You can see the up-to-date results of this survey, with 394 respondents, on SurveyMonkey here*. I didn’t include written responses in the link since one of the questions asked for e-mail addresses, but I included the write-in answers on this Google Sheets public spreadsheet.
I often talk to my fellow science journalists about what people like and don’t like about the science media that they consume. There’s probably nothing that I think about and talk about more often than #scicomm. However — and this is not specific only to journalism — I often worry that discourse topics can become entrenched in oral traditions and can therefore be susceptible to myths. I didn’t want all my information about science communication to come from science communicators, so I created a survey asking people outside the field what they thought about the inside.
The survey started on May 31, 2017, and I’ve left it open in perpetuity. However, for the sake of finality, I am analyzing and including graphs in this article from the opening of the survey until June 12, 2017. Here is the data for you.
*(EDIT:) Now if you click on that link, it will only show you data from the first 100 respondents, because SurveyMonkey wants $29 a month to continue showing you more data. So, instead, it makes more sense to refer to the graphs below.
How do you come across science content?
Notes: The Tumblr bar is probably over-represented because I advertised the survey on my popular Tumblr blog(46,854 followers as of today), and those people generally follow me for science content.
In the “Other (please specify)” section, the most common words (not including “science”) were academic in nature: “School” (10%), “Professors” (6%), “University” (6%) and “College” (3%) were popular write-ins (with overlap.) “Journals” (9%), “Research” (6%) and “scientists” (5%) show that some people are interested in looking directly at the research, vs. through a lens of social media.
What do you like about the science content you see?
Notes: Popular write-in answers included the words “Interesting” (20%), “Accurate” (12%), and “Sources” (11%.) On reading the answers, I saw several variations of “relevant to my life” or “applicable.”
What do you not like about the science content you see?
Notes: The text analysis wasn’t quite as useful for this section; popular keywords were “science,” “articles,” and “studies.” But on reading the write-in answers, I saw that many respondents were concerned about trustworthiness, especially click-bait headlines. They also wrote about fake news and paywalls prohibiting access to cited sources, but I go more into that in the next question.
Do you feel like you trust most science content that you see?
Notes: As you can see, 45% of respondents take issue with the fact that they can’t access the original research. The write-in answers specifically cited issues with paywalls rather than readability. Others cited that scientists, communicators, and the news outlet often have bias or an “ax to grind.” Again, they took issue with sensationalism, clickbait, and blowing things out of proportion.
What questions would you want to ask scientists?
Write-ins were fewer this time, but included words like “impact” and “big picture,” in addition to the 70% of respondents who clicked the option for “what is the impact of your work?”
(Side note: I ask almost every source that I interview “Why is this important?” It might seem like an offensive question, but usually people are happy to tell you the importance of their work.)
What would you most want to see?
Notes: It looks like real-life events is the winner here. My experience in journalism undergrad, grad school, work, and personal research didn’t include learning event production, though. However, I do see some places like Atlas Obscura, Story Collider, Odd Salon, and Science Cafe producing science events.
Who do you think science communicators need to target better in their content?
Notes: Given the number of Tumblr users who took the survey, as well as the recent articles about women in science communication, I thought that there would have been more votes for more women/POC/Queer/Disabled people. Several write-ins wrote “everyone” or “don’t try to target anyone in particular.”
If you can think of any, who are your favorite science-content publishers, and why?
Some popular answers out of the 177 who responded:
- National Geographic + Nat Geo: 17%
- Brain Scoop + Emily Graslie: 10%
- Tumblr: 6%
- Scientific American: 5%
- SciShow: 5%
- Neil deGrasse Tyson: 3%
- Strange Biology + KHugo: 3% (again, this was posted on Strange Bio)
- Smithsonian: 2%
Again, you can look at this public spreadsheet of all the answers to this question in full.
How science literate do you consider yourself?
Notes: This is definitely not a perfect representation of the world’s population. Almost everyone who wrote in an answer said that they care a lot about science or they studied/plan to study it.
394 people took the survey. I asked science communicators not to respond so we could look from the outside in. I also researched survey best practices to try to minimize bias.
However, that doesn’t mean the survey is a perfect sample. I advertised this data on my own social media platforms, including Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. The majority of the respondents came from my Tumblr page, or from pages of people who reblogged me. I have nearly 47,000 followers on Tumblr, which is a blog about biology, so I imagine that the followers were disproportionately sciencey. Even the people who reblogged the survey to their followers also had, most likely, sciencey followers. My Twitter (219 followers as of today) is very focused on science communication, and my Facebook (1,004 friends and followers) is a mix of science communicators, animal enthusiasts, and random people I’ve met while hiking.
Of course, you can’t please everyone. I had several people suggest that they wanted more content about the intersection of science and politics, and then others said “please god, don’t let politics taint science.” But I think that the general takeaway is that people want science journalism to be stronger, to stay away from clickbait, and to make their sources clear.
Is there anything else that you wish I had included in this survey? Did this data help you with writing a pitch or affect the way you will create science content? Let me know in the comments.
Kristin Hugo is a science journalism freelancer in the Washington, DC area. She has done science and social media at PBS Newshour, interned and freelanced at National Geographic, and earned an MS of Science Journalism at Boston University. She is also author of Strange Biology, a biology blog on Tumblr.
Follow Kristin on Twitter.