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Recherche scientifique et médias : enjeux et tensions

When the media coverage of “scholarly” knowledge and researchers question the meaning of science

Marie-Christine Lipani et Catherine Pascal

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1Science is not immune to the grasp of communication. Scientists neither.

  • 1 Lacan Jacques, (1999), Écrits II, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, (première édition, 1971), p. 357.

2Communication, in the sense of transmission, is the very essence of science. “Do I need to say that in science, explained Lacan, in contrast to magic and religion, knowledge is communicated”.1

3In other words, it is the responsibility of scientists to make known and share the results of their work and their discoveries with the general public, especially since science, on the one hand, is everywhere in our daily lives. New technical processes and innovations of all kinds constantly punctuate our life and our societal organizations.

4On the other hand, the purpose of science is also to support individuals when they are exposed to new vulnerabilities such as viruses or environmental and existential risks, for example. Therefore, in such situations, informing citizens is essential and legitimate. The behavior of the public during confinement 2following the coronavirus crisis confirms this. The Covid-19 crisis represented on average nearly 74% of airtime on continuous news channels during confinement (Eutrope, 2020) and the audiovisual media achieved quite remarkable audience rates during this period. 3

5Far from us being able to analyze here the media treatment of the Covid-19 crisis, however, this example allows, in part, to get a more precise idea of the stakes of the mediatization of science and scientists.

A specific context

6The responsibility of scientists to communicate more about their “knowledge” is all the greater since there is today a specific situation linked to our time when digital technology and more particularly social networks have introduced an immediacy of publication of any data and a logic of transparency at all costs, leading to a form of totalitarian and uniform communication regime where everything is equal (Leguil, 2018). The legitimacy of “authorized” speeches, those of institutions, the media, politicians and scientists is now called into question and the content of the speeches is indicative of multiple issues that scramble the essential message or purpose.

7Scientists, all disciplines combined, and their institutions are therefore, more than ever, urged to make their know-how known, to promote, beyond the scientific community, the actions carried out, the work undertaken and the results obtained, research and experiments in progress. All the actors in the world of research, those who manage institutions and scientific journals, value a science that is increasingly “open”, that is to say accessible to all.

8This is reflected, among other things, but not exclusively, by the posting of scientific communications with free access online and by the opening of university conferences to professionals from the fields of action.

9However, this commitment to communication, which escapes no one and which also makes it possible to better position oneself to obtain funding, inevitably involves mediatization that is to say recourse to the media, and suddenly arises with acuteness of essential questions. How can scientists better communicate about their work and thus be more involved at the heart of public and political debates? Is the place of researchers in the media? Mediation, vulgarization, opening up of knowledge to be shared and mediatization, are they difficult to implement?

Greater media demand

10The mediatization of the researcher is not obvious. Indeed, many are, even today, scientists and academics who keep their distance from the media, fearing, among other things, a deviation, even a simplification of a speech, a thought and a complex process.

11Yet times have changed.

12The challenges of mediatization have turned out to be stronger and more subtle, even more relevant. The mediatization of science and that of the researcher have taken on a new meaning for both science and media actors.

13Researchers have become more familiar with media logics and the expectations of journalists. The latter, now more qualified and more trained, are also more aware of scientific disciplines, and even more attentive and attentive to the contributions of science. Media demand has evolved. Indeed, if the media have always accorded a lot of space to testimonies in their journalistic accounts because they embody the subjects of the report and give a touch of emotion, the speeches of expertise and the speeches of “knowledge” have gained importance. more and more importance in media content, offering, as far as possible, a different and distanced approach, a little more demonstration, explanation and rationality in sometimes confusing or even painful situations.

14In addition, certain new online media, such as The Conversation site in particular, have invented new collaborations with scientists, thus leaving scientists to decrypt

15the news and transmit their analyzes to all of the citizens (Lipani, 2019). Likewise, the use of certain communication tools (blogs, research notebooks, videos, etc.) and the use of new digital media such as YouTube for example, for new generations of academics and scientists, has become more regular and simpler. Science has opened up.

16At the same time, the expectations and practices of media audiences have changed. A public that has become more and more demanding and curious, more and more concerned and attentive to developments, social changes and issues related to living together. A public, as a whole, quite a consumer of media and technology and which has multiple sources of information. A public, also more and more educated and which, quite often, does not fear a little more complex speeches.

Another visibility

17If all sciences and all academic disciplines in general have, over the years, been more or less engaged in a great communication movement, the action seems riskier for the human sciences. They seem, in fact, more exposed to criticism or controversy, which does not simplify the task of researchers wishing to give more visibility, or at least, another form of visibility to their work.

18Another visibility. This is what it is about when we question the issues of the mediatization of researchers. A visibility such as a form of recognition, which in no way replaces that of the university institution and that of peers, which is always essential, thus validating the scientific nature of the posture and of the work, but which contributes, at least this is our conviction, to the researcher's commitment in the public space (Pascal, 2019). By this we mean that the mediatization of scientific research and the mediatization of the researcher make it possible to embody and promote scientific work, to propel the researcher in a different way to the heart of society, and perhaps, to create new links. It is not a question here, far from it, of promoting a simplistic and optimistic vision of media coverage, but science is only worthwhile if it is shared and the stakes are high. It is, in fact, beyond the media coverage as such and its risks and other possible misunderstandings for the scientist, to question more precisely the meaning of the mediatization of the researcher, as soon as it is / the place as a stakeholder in the society that he / she observes and on which he / she produces data. If the mediatization of the scientist can, perhaps in certain situations, modify his relation to his community of belonging and his rites of integration, have or not an influence in his career, at least in his scientific, theoretical and methodological choices, and on its own space of creative freedom, the “media setting” (Boukacem-Zeghmouri, Rodriguez Bravo, 2020) of its posture and its approach does indeed contribute to improving the conditions for the dissemination of knowledge and is not this point a key action of its social mission? (Mattart, 2006).

19It is indeed the circulation of knowledge, which is also a stakeholder in the deconstruction of social inequalities, which is at stake in the media intervention of researchers by taking the risk, sometimes, of knowledge that is distorted or reinterpreted; but also by offering the scientist, in an admittedly constrained space, the possibility of addressing a specific fundamental point that until then had been unsuspected or ignored.

  • 4 Ruel Anne-Claire (2018) « Débat Zemmour-Weil : les chercheurs ont-ils vocation à intervenir dans le (...)

20Questioning again the mediatization of science and that of scientists is not to reduce the work of research actors to their relationships with journalists, far from it. But the necessary visibility of scientific advances cannot do without the media. This is probably not a good strategy. On the other hand, rethinking the training of scientists by enabling them to better develop communication and media skills is, perhaps not completely, heresy? In a society where information of all kinds circulates at high speed and where it has become almost impossible to verify everything, it is indeed by being at the heart of this system of circulation and transmission that scientists can hope to change the situation. “It is the validity of scientific arguments and their empirical foundations, suggests Bruno Cautrès, that allows the researcher to put things at a distance, to play his role, to live well with his media presence”.4

Presentation of the dossier

21A large part of these questions can be found in the following articles which make up this present dossier. Researchers, in fact, have focused their analyzes and approaches on the effects, issues, risks and methods, on the one hand, of the communication strategies developed by scientists and, on the other hand, on the way in which the relationship between the media and academics was expressed today.

22Bérangère Stassin's text: “the popularization of research on the phenomenon of harassment in The Conversation France. Analysis of the thematic and discussive treatment of a social issue ”, reviews the new forms of media coverage following the Internet explosion, and, focusing in particular on the pure-player The Conversation France, analyzes the challenges of popularization, far from being natural among academics. Although hosted by journalists, this online medium only publishes articles written by scientists while respecting the codes of journalistic writing, which generates a close collaboration between professional writers, editors and researchers. The author wonders about the way in which scientists put their expertise into text and this research focuses on articles dealing only with the question of school bullying and cyber bullying, bullying in general and sexual or moral harassment at work. Bérangère Stassin underlines that some of the articles studied are based on a recent news event, which largely corresponds to the editorial line of the title, namely: to decipher and shed light on the news based on scientific expertise. The researcher also shows that, although constrained by a specific journalistic format, the analysis of scientists publishing in this medium is no less relevant. However, for the author, many questions still remain unanswered, in particular that of the benefit that researchers may or may not derive from this collaboration with this medium.

23Researcher François Allard-Huver focuses his analysis on the media coverage and the posture of Professor Gilles-Éric Séralini, a biologist at the University of Caen, considered to be an important whistleblower. The text entitled “Gilles-Éric Séralini or the transgression of the traditional “mediations of knowledge” does not only decipher what could be the outlines and behind the scenes of a great scientific controversy since the work of this biologist as a result, between others, the publication in 2012 of his book Tous cobayes was questioned and the author was accused of having “mounted” a media stunt to promote his work.

24François Allard-Huver studies deeply, through the analysis of a large corpus of press articles, the intervention strategy of the biologist in the public space and how, from a simple scientific controversy, one passes to “a media coverage crisis”. For the author of the article, it is in fact a question of posing with force the question of the space of freedom of a researcher particularly committed in his scientific approach, his capacity to detach himself from the rules and the uses governing to both the scientific community and the media. The article questions the evolution and challenges of media coverage, but also the ethical posture of the scientist who deviates from the norm. We cannot help but draw a parallel with the personality of Didier Raoult and his communication around his work on hydroxycloroquine.

25In her communication which is called Collaborating on Wikipedia to Co-construct a knowledge society: Opportunities, challenges and issues for the academic world, Sawsan Bidart-Atallah, young researcher, analyzes, in a critical way, from the literature existing opportunities, challenges and issues of the adoption of Wikipedia by academics and more particularly with 85 women from academia (doctoral students and resident research professors from different countries) in order to understand their perceptions and their use of the platform . Sawsan Bidart-Atallah studies how opening up knowledge through a known platform can lead to negative perceptions and representations.

26In addition to the lack of diversity in the consideration of audiences (for example in gender and culture), the researcher certainly underlines the challenge of popularization but also its difficulties and issues. Sawsan Bidart-Atallah questions this popularization phenomenon as “the act of making something known to a large number of people and giving them pleasure. (Oxford Learners Dictionaries, 2020). The author proposes to put it in relation to the vulgarization process: “the process of making something worse by modifying it so that it is more ordinary than before and not of such a high standard” (Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, 2020). The analyzes of the survey underline the ambivalence of the platform between popularizing neutrality and the co-construction of a certain readability in knowledge and also in gender. The author insists on the role that the scientific community has to play to better ensure its reliability and its popularity to be fully justified, through the even more visible contribution of experts from the various fields concerned.

27The lively contribution of Anne Cordier's text: “Media research in CIS on” digital in education, lies in the author's critical view of the need, for our society, to involve experts in pedagogy and more specifically in digital education. Its approach strongly underlines that this field remains to be more fully invested by Information and Communication Sciences (CIS) because it remains barely visible or even barely readable by the media themselves and by society as a whole.

28Thus, Anne Cordier shows that the essential stake lies in scientific information in definition and mission: “the status of scientific information is questionable and with it the figure of the expert, self-declared. or designated by media fields of legitimation that escape the traditional channels of academic validation, (Trépos, 1996)”.

29The author therefore recommends a position taken by researchers in the Society and calls for their commitment. Because the commitment for Anne Cordier relates to the discussion, the sharing of “the set of views and epistemological and methodological choices, within the discipline of Information and Communication Sciences. In fact, the mediatization of CIS research on digital education reveals a social responsibility of researchers. The commitment of researchers arises as much in ethical issues and societal emancipation as in the risks of media coverage subject to information and communication formats revealing individual and collective powers. This article reveals the contemporary challenge of any researcher: to situate himself in disciplinary expertise and in social and ethical responsibility, this in a globalized context subject, therefore, to all types of risks.

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Bayet Antoine, Hervé Nicolas, Doukhan David, (2020), “INA study. Airtime, emerging personalities, place of women: a review of information on Covid-19 on TV . Online.

Boukacem-Zeghmouri Chérifa, Robriguez Bravo Blanca, (2020), “Presentation of the 2019 dossier. Scientific information, between evaluation and media coverage”, The challenges of information and communication, unpublished article, posted on January 31, 2020 .

Eutrope Xavier (2020), “Despite the Covid-19 crisis, the future of science journalism is not bright.” Online.é-sciences

Lacan Jacques, (1999), Écrits II, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, (first edition, 1971).

Leguil Clotilde (2018), “Je” Une traversée des identités, Paris, PUF.

Lemoine-Schonne Marion, Leprince Matthieu (2019), (ed.), Being a recognized researcher. Judgment of peers, view of the public, esteem of relatives, Rennes, MSHB-PUR.

Lensing- Hebben Caroline (2019), “Social Science Researchers. Media profits and academic risks ”. Online.

Lipani Marie-Christine (2019), “The Conversation: interface device between science and journalism”, in Beyaert-Geslin Anne, Rouissi Soufiane, (dir.), La vie interfaciale. Crossed views in SIC and Arts, Bordeaux, MSHA, 71-81.

Pascal Catherine, (2019), “The challenges of action, participatory, collaborative and creative research between both technical and political standards of modernization of research and economic and social challenges” in Lipani M.-C., Pascal C., Study day, Sciences and society: What place and what representation of research in the media?, April 11, 2019, Bordeaux, MSHA.

Mattart Christophe, (2006), “The“ sociologist-expert ”on television: a meaning for the sociological position? », Sociological and anthropological research, 37-1.85-103.

Rouquette Sébastien (2011), (ed.), Sciences and media, Paris, CNRS Éditions, coll. Hermès essentials.

Ruel Anne-Claire (2018) “Zemmour-Weil debate: do researchers have a vocation to intervene in the media? Four of them respond ". Online. four-of-them-answer.html

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1 Lacan Jacques, (1999), Écrits II, Paris, Éditions du Seuil, (première édition, 1971), p. 357.

2 Spring 2020

3é-sciences et

4 Ruel Anne-Claire (2018) « Débat Zemmour-Weil : les chercheurs ont-ils vocation à intervenir dans les médias ? Quatre d’entre eux répondent »,

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Marie-Christine Lipani et Catherine Pascal, « When the media coverage of “scholarly” knowledge and researchers question the meaning of science »Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication [En ligne], 20 | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2021, consulté le 01 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Marie-Christine Lipani

Marie-Christine Lipani is a lecturer authorized to direct research in Information and Communication Sciences and equality and anti-discrimination referent at the Bordeaux Aquitaine Journalism Institute (IIBA) - Bordeaux Montaigne University. She is a member of the MICA laboratory (EA 44 26), Media, Culture and Society axis - Bordeaux Montaigne University. Email:

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Catherine Pascal

Catherine Pascal is a lecturer in Information and Communication Sciences at the UFR Languages and Civilizations - Bordeaux Montaigne University. She is a member of the MICA laboratory (EA 44 26), ICIN axis: information, Knowledge, Innovation, Digital - University Bordeaux Montaigne. Email:

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