Evolutionary theories are not commonly researched in social sciences but are, however, influencing scientific, political, and personal spheres in a variety of ways. How news media report about evolutionary theories can influence the public perception, because most people learn about scientific topics mainly or exclusively through news media. There is, however, little research on how news media write about evolutionary theories. From a science communication perspective, this is relevant because an accurate portrayal of scientific findings is important for people to participate in society. Yet, it is known that communication of science can be distorted in many ways. News media produce news in a changing media landscape and face many challenges that influence the routines of news production. In this research, news coverage about evolutionary theories between the years 2007 and 2020 was analyzed by conducting a quantitative content analysis. The central research question was: in what way and to what extent are evolutionary theories covered in Dutch newspapers? To answer this research question, an automatic analysis, including a structural topic model to identify news topics, was conducted. In addition to the automatic analysis, 450 articles were manually coded to find latent meanings. The content analyses were specifically focused on three parts of news production: the selection of news, the frames used, and the sources quoted. Focusing on Dutch newspapers added the possibility to analyze whether popular, quality, and religious newspapers differed in their news coverage about evolutionary theories. These differences could possibly arise due to the Netherlands’ history of pillarization. The results showed that quality and religious newspapers reported significantly more about evolutionary theories than popular newspapers over the years. The news topics associated with evolutionary theories differed strongly between religious newspapers and the other types of newspapers. The biggest topic present in news coverage about evolutionary theories in religious newspapers was evolution and religion, whereas popular and quality newspapers reported mostly about ancestor fossils and the history of life. Religious newspapers framed news coverage about evolutionary theories significantly more from a conflict perspective than the other types of newspapers. Uncertainty, the extent to which science can be confirmed or denied, was only to a small extent communicated in the news coverage of all newspapers. Scientists were mainly quoted and paraphrased in all newspapers, but religious figures and theologians were mostly used in religious newspapers. Balanced and accurate science communication was found in some aspects of news coverage about evolutionary theories, but news coverage was also inaccurate and out of balance in multiple ways. The implications of these results are discussed, as well as suggestions for further research.

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Dr. E. Huiberts
Media & Journalistiek
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication

Marnix ‘t Hart. (2021, June 30). Communicating evolutionary theories. A quantitative content analysis of news coverage about evolutionary theories in Dutch newspapers between 2007 and 2020. Media & Journalistiek. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/60697