When I was 16, I was tasked with creating a “grand plan” for my future, as an assignment for one of the Psychology classes I was taking. Considering all the time that I had spent reading about language acquisition and the brain, I figured it out. Among my goals? A Ph.D in Neurolinguistics by the age of 25, with enough published journal articles to get me on the tenure track at a research university. Then, two things happened that helped to change my plan. Firstly, I was placed into honors high school Chemistry (need I say more). Secondly, a month later, I turned the paper in about my “grand plan,” and my Psychology professor called me into her office. She commended me on wanting to go into academia as a career; then, we got on the conversation of just how difficult it is to publish research articles. “And even after all that hard work,” she said, “just who reads a 60 page research article for fun?”
From the literary “achievement” of To Kill A Mockingbird, to the purchasing patterns of low-income consumers who live in food deserts, there are a countless number of articles published in journals every decade. While many of these articles are the product of many months of research, writing, and revision, it only takes thirty seconds for an undergraduate to read the abstract and understand the basic premise of the article. With that considered, is reading the whole 60 page article necessary? Regardless of your answer to the previous question, it is important to note that research has been a necessary step for the recent advances in healthcare, technology, and many other divergent fields of study. However, despite that, the average person may not have the intellectual stamina to read 60 pages of research. This does not mean though that published research is a waste for the general public.
While people generally don’t read research heavy articles for entertainment, there is something that most people do: read magazines and online newspapers. Research helps to build the backbone for popular journalism. From women’s magazines to online articles about the political consequences of war—statistics, studies, and discoveries deeply permeate our print and online journalism. Statistics can help to bolster the opinion of an Op-Ed columnist and a new discovery, on the other hand, can be introduced to the public by way of an easily readable online article. While the ultimate goal of print and online media is not to be a vehicle for delivering science, the popular media is still an intrinsic part of disseminating new knowledge to the public.
Most people do not browse search engines like JSTOR, or subscribe to costly scientific journals in order to conveniently read the news. Instead, people turn on the television, open up a newspaper, or navigate to the homepage of their preferred online magazine. By reading magazines, people can read about new discoveries—sans the many pages of jargon and complex mathematical procedures that lend credence to actual articles that are published in a journal.
If reaching as many people as possible is one’s goal with research, popular media wins here as well.
Although current statistics have proved difficult to find, an article from Business Insider by writer Henry Blodget states that in 2011, the Huffington Post website as a whole had 12.3 million unique visitors per month. Other well-read sources of news, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, also gained a plethora of views as well. With millions of views and dozens of comments, these websites effectively regularly engage thousands of viewers of month.
On the other hand, is the readership of individual articles published in scientific or literary journals? According to Lokman I Meho of the University of Indiana Bloomington, “as many as 50% of papers are never read by anyone other than their authors, referees and journal editors.”
At the end of his paper, Meho posits that “Publishing a journal article online is now the first step in disseminating or communicating one’s work.” While this first step may seem superfluous, it is undeniable that mass media is indelibly influenced by the discoveries made possible as a result of scientific research.
As many articles begin with “A new study suggests that…” or reference research that has already been conducted, research and mass media have a nifty partnership: hard research is actually brought to the public and mass media has data to use as leads on stories. The combination of research studies and popular journalism allows all of us to learn more about the world around us.
Despite my idealistic plans at the age of 16, my goals no longer include earning a Ph.D in Neurolinguistics at the idealistic age of 25. However, while publishing research articles is no longer my goal, I still desire to write. I strive to make information as accessible as possible.
Most people don’t read jargon dense research articles to learn about what is going on—they read the news that is most accessible to them. In a fast-paced society, quick information on-the-go is the information that consumers desire. Online magazines, newspapers, and other forms of popular media bridge the gap from the complex to the casual—allowing for more people to learn about the discoveries and science of today.
Murray, Jennifer. “More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a Mockingbird.” The Southern Literary Journal 43.1 (2010): 75-91. JSTOR. Web. 12 July 2014.
Weatherspoon, Dave. “Price and Expenditure Elasticities for Fresh Fruits in an Urban Food Desert.” SAGE: Urban Studies 50.1 (2014): 88-106. Web. 12 July 2014.
Blodget, Henry. “CHART OF THE DAY: Huffington Post Takes Over The World.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 18 May 2010. Web. 12 July 2014.
Meho, Lokman I. “The Rise of Citation Analysis.” Physics World (2007): 32-36. Web. 12 July 2014.