How Science Works

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AS Science In Society 1.11 Teacher Notes

How Science Works
Relationships between science and society.
Science is communicated to general audiences through news media, and there is often conflict between the scientist’s desire for what s/he sees as accuracy of information and the journalist’s need to tell a story with impact.

This activity provides an opportunity to look at some newspapers and at how they report science-based issues. It also suggests that discovery of new forms of life would be big news.

Selection of newspapers with typical headlines. For diversity, The Sun, The Daily Mail and one or more ‘broadsheet’ (The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian, The Independent) are suggested.

Selection of science-based articles. At least some of these should be about ‘space’ issues.

The activity

Students create some headlines for different styles of newspaper. They discuss the likely news impact of the discovery of aliens, and the reporting of science-based issues in general.

October 2008

Imagine that, some time in the next year, some scientists make a major new discovery about life in the Universe. It would be front page news.
One possibility is the discovery of modulated radio waves spreading from a distant planet. Modulated waves have meaningful patterns, as do the waves broadcast by TV and radio stations here on Earth.

Newspapers might write headlines like these:

The Daily Post

Prime minister fails to offer assurances that we are safe from alien invasion

They are out there

The Planet

Aliens sent radio massages – now we know where they live

ET phones home

Radio signals reveal the location of extraterrestrial intelligence
he Chronicle

Messages from another planet

The activity
Look at some front pages and at some science-based stories indifferent styles of newspaper. You could try The Sun, The Daily Mail, and The Guardian.
Other discoveries about life could also make the front pages, such as:

  • The discovery of an atmosphere of a distant planet with a large proportion of oxygen and significant amounts of oxides of sulfur and nitrogen

  • The discovery that there are some living things on Earth with chemistry that is completely different from that of all other known species, suggesting completely different origins

Choose ONE of these possibilities. Write a set of three headlines for different styles of newspaper. You can get some ideas by looking at some real newspapers.

Compare your headlines with those produced by others in the class.


  • Which of the discoveries (the radio wave discovery, the planet atmosphere discovery, or the new life on Earth discovery) would have the biggest news impact? Why?

  • Which should journalists put first when writing about a science-based issue – a good story that will grab attention, or getting the science right? Do you think that journalists always manage to do both? Can you trust all the science-based stories that you read in newspapers?

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