17 SES 07, Paper Session
In his seminal article ”Knowledge in transit” James Secord made a case for the study of the circulation of knowledge, and he pointed out the critical yet neglected role of how scientific results are made public. “It is amazing that we lack a good general history of the protocols and procedures for announcing a discovery in different periods” (Secord 2004: 667). Communication, popularization and circulation of scientific results can come in many forms: scientific conferences, scientific journals, books, museums, exhibitions etcetera. This paper emphasizes one crucial aspect: the role of the mass media – and more exactly – the role of press conferences. The case that is discussed is large-scale assessments conducted by The International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) in the 1960s and 1970s, an organization which expressed a great interest, but also a great ambivalence, towards the media. By analyzing IEA’s contradictory attitude towards the media, the ambition is to shed new light not only on how and why scientific knowledge circulates but also on the early history of large-scale assessments. The early history of IEA demonstrates that the mass media was an important, yet, problematic, ally. The question that this paper addresses is about the roots of this ambivalent attitude. Why was media considered so important, and why was it so problematic? Or, in other words, which messages were important and doable to disseminate through the media, and which distortions of the message due to the media were detected? Drawing on research on audiences/publics and the history of social science (e.g. Ekström 2004, Cooter & Pumfrey 1994) the paper discusses how social science is made public, and the relationship between social science, media and the public. By adding the phenomena of press conferences, the paper introduces a neglected theme in the history of social science. Press conferences haven’t been studied much, not even in the realm of political communication where it arguably plays a more prominent role.
IEA arranged international press conferences for the presentation of their studies in 1967 and 1973. The one of 1973, held in Stockholm, is particularly well documented. The IEA archive (Hoover institution) and the Husén archive (Swedish national archives) both contain information about it. It includes correspondence, press releases, time tables for the press conference, as well as other material that can be used to contextualize and analyze the significance that the media had for an organization like IEA. The reception of the IEA studies has also been analyzed using Swedish newspapers from 1973.
In 1973 the results of three of the studies from the six subject study were released, dealing with literature education, reading comprehension and science (Comber & Keeves 1973; Purves 1973; Thorndike 1973). IEA chose to make careful presentations of the data to the media. Ambitious press releases of all the individual studies were written, giving detailed information of the results. The press releases, some of which included tables and diagrams, were extensive, sometimes exceeding 10 pages. Assistance on how to write press releases was received from a journalist (Stuart Maclure) from the London Times Educational supplement, who was visiting the IEA headquarter for about a week in Stockholm in May 1973 (Husén archive vol 47). An international press conference, held in Stockholm, was organized, in which the three reports were presented. The press conference, which lasted almost a full day – between 10 AM and 16:30 PM – represented a very concrete meeting between science and the media, where the authors of the individual reports had come all the way to Sweden to present the results. (Hoover institution, vol 362). The press conference was thus primarily a scholarly event, giving detailed presentations of the main results for an audience consisting of the international press, but was also a public event. The ambitious press conferences and press releases indicates that IEA not only wanted to inform about research but also to educate the media. The press conference appears almost like a course in miniature. Why was such a serious attitude considered important? In a concluding analysis, it is claimed that this seriousness was rooted in an ambivalent attitude towards the media. The media was both considered an asset and a problematic ally.
Comber, L.C. & Keeves, J.P. 1973. Science Education in Nineteen Countries: An Empirical Study. New York: Wiley. Cooter, R & Pumfrey, S. 1994. ”Separate Spheres and Public Places: Reflections in the History of Science Popularization and Science in Popular Culture.” History of Science, Vol. 32, p.237-267 Ekström, A. (red.) (2004). Den mediala vetenskapen. Nora: Nya Doxa. Eriksson, G,; Larsson, L & Moberg, U. 2013. Politikernas arena. En studie om presskonferenser på regeringsnivå. Lund: Studentlitteratur. Hoover Institution. Inventory of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Records, 1959-1992. Purves, A.C. 1973. Literature Education in Ten Countries: An Empirical Study. New York: Wiley. Secord, James .2004. “Knowledge in Transit” Isis, 95:654–672. Thorndike, R.L. 1973. Reading Comprehension Education in Fifteen Countries: An Empirical Study. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.
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