upshot Over the past decade, an increasing number of social scientists have analyzed political conflicts related to science, technology and the environment. This research, on what the U.S. National Academies calls the “science of science communication,” has focused on topics including the communication strategies of the expert community; the impact of worldviews on acceptance of expert advice; and the relevance of the media to public opinion.

Yet largely overlooked by this growing network of researchers are the specific journalistic practices and media structures that might enable more constructive public debate.

In a co-authored commentary that will appear in a forthcoming special issue of the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science,  we detail the role that journalists can play as influential knowledge professionals in these conflicts, drawing on insights from studies in the special issue and other recent scholarship.

In doing so, my co-author Declan Fahy and I outline three complementary approaches to what Harvard University’s Thomas Patterson in a recent book calls “knowledge-based journalism.

We spotlight specific journalists like the New York Times’ Andrew Revkin who are leading examples of these models, and also discuss the relevance of new journalistic initiatives like the Times’ Upshot blog,, and FiveThirtyEight.

By way of these approaches, journalists and their news organizations can contextualize and critically evaluate expert knowledge; facilitate discussion that bridges entrenched ideological divisions; and promote consideration of a broader menu of policy options and technologies.

Read a pre-publication version of the commentary.


Nisbet, M.C. & Fahy, D. (in press). Why We Need Knowledge-based Journalism in Politicized Science Debates. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.