Journalistic construction of (un-)certainty: Semantic transformation processes in the reporting of neuroscience

Based on a constructivist conceptualization of science journalism as observer and producer of public knowledge about science, not only as “transmitter” or “translator”, the project will answer the question of how journalism constructs certainty or uncertainty of scientific expertise for the media audience in the reporting on neuroscience – given the fragility, controversial character and need for interpretation of the scientific knowledge. We will analyze neuroscientists’ talks with journalists and media interviews in which scientific information offers meet journalistic information demands, and scientific and journalistic principles of dealing with uncertainty compete. In about 25 qualitative case studies the “co-construction” of (un-)certainty by scientists and journalists will be reconstructed through the analysis of conversation transcripts and documents. The goals are to characterize the typical transformations of scientific into public (un-)certainty, to develop a typology of forms of journalistic handling of (un-)certainty, and to identify influencing factors. Neuroscience serves as subject area for this study because of its strong social relevance, and because epistemic uncertainties and controversies but also the suggestive power of visual result presentation (neuroimaging) are of central importance.


Lehmkuhl, M., & Peters, H. P. (2016). Constructing (un-)certainty: An exploration of journalistic decision-making in the reporting of neuroscience. Public Understanding of Science, published online before print 28 April 2016.

Lehmkuhl, M., & Peters, H. P. (2016, in Druck). “Gesichert ist gar nichts”! Zum Umgang des Journalismus mit Ambivalenz, Fragilität und Kontroversität neurowissenschaftlicher ‘truth claims’. In: G. Ruhrmann, S. H. Kessler & L. Guenther (Hrsg.): Wissenschaftskommunikation zwischen Risiko und (Un)Sicherheit. Herbert von Halem Verlag, Köln.

Conference Contributions:

Lehmkuhl, M., & Peters, H. P. (2015). Einflüsse von beruflicher Position, antizipierter Publikumsrelevanz und wissenschaftlicher Selbstdarstellung auf den journalistischen Umgang mit wissenschaftlicher Unsicherheit: Rekonstruktion der Genese von Medienbeiträgen über neurowissenschaftliche Forschungsergebnisse. Vortrag bei der 2. Jahrestagung der Ad-Hoc-Gruppe “Wissenschaftskommunikation” der DGPuK “Wissenschaftskommunikation zwischen Risiko und (Un)Sicherheit”, Jena, 30.-31. Januar 2015.

Lehmkuhl, M., Peters, H. P., & Lo, Y-Y. (2013). Journalistic construction of scientific uncertainty: an exploration of decisionmaking in the reporting of neuroscience. Paper presented at the Workshop “Strategic Functions of (Un-)Certainty Claims in Public Communication of Science”, DFG Special Priority Program 1409 “Science and the General Public”, Forschungszentrum Jülich, 24-25 June 2013.

Prof. Dr. Hans Peter Peters
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Institut für Neurowissenschaft und Medizin:
Ethik in den Neurowissenschaften
52425 Jülich
+49 2461 613562
Research Interest:
Societal contextualization of the neurosciences
Public communication of science and technology (PCST)
Relationship between science and journalism
Scientists in the mass media
Reception of science in the media by the audience
Political effects of public science communication and repercussions on science (medialization)

Staff 1
Dr. phil Markus Lehmkuhl
Forschungszentrum Jülich
52425 Jülich
Tel.: +49 331 5889933
Research Interest:
Science Journalism
Risk Communication
Science Communication

top of page