Washington, September 6 : An analysis of 300 science articles published in different newspapers has revealed that journalists use the term 'gene' to convey different meanings.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway, the study led to the identification of five main 'gene frames' in different types of media.
The authors of the study feel that the use of the "deterministic" frame, such as the lines "Drunk? It's in your genes", may be related to the desire of journalists to sell a story by keeping it simple and accessible.
In contrast, they add, the "evolutionary" frame that scientists commonly use gives more insight, but may be difficult to communicate.
The study also revealed that the gene had become a playful metaphor, for example by stating that "Mazda has many Ford genes".
These findings attain significance as presenting the term 'gene' using a number of different frames may invoke various prejudiced images in the reader's mind.
"Such a diversity of meanings presents a key challenge to science communications, so both scientists and journalists could benefit from a clear classification of the polysemy," say the researchers.
The authors hope that their novel approach will be a useful tool for journalists and scientists to improve their explanations of genetics for a broader audience, and better understand how scientific topics are framed in the mass media.
"The common understanding of scientific topics is increasingly important because the public is more and more able to influence policy-making on scientific issues and thus the funding and even the nature of research itself", explained Rebecca Carver from the Institute of Basic Medical Science at the University of Oslo and the first author of the study.