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The public impact of impacts: How the media play in the mass extinction debates

MILLER, S; (2014) The public impact of impacts: How the media play in the mass extinction debates. Geological Society of America Special Papers , 505 439 - 455. 10.1130/2014.2505(24)​. Green open access

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Abstract

“Mass media” presentations of the dinosaurs and their co-inhabitants have been around for some 200 years. The question of what exterminated the dinosaurs and allowed mammals to take their leading place on Earth has a similarly lengthy history in the scientific arena and in public. However, there are amazingly few communication studies of the debates around mass extinctions and impacts. Those that do exist have picked up on the fact that these debates involve scientists from several disciplines, scientists who are often unused to reading each other’s research. Under these circumstances, more public or leading journals play a key role, not only in getting ideas out into the public arena, but in informing scientists across disciplinary boundaries. “Normal” communication processes, in which articles in peer-reviewed journals inform the scientific community and “simplified” versions may trickle out to the public via the mass media, become more complex. The dramatic impact answer to the question of the death of the dinosaurs seems to have attracted limited media attention at the time, confined to the “elite” newspapers. This paper analyzes the newspaper coverage of the death of the dinosaurs during the period from 1980 to 2008. I find that the period from 1991 to 1995 was critical in terms of changing public perceptions, insofar as they are determined/reflected in articles in general newspapers. I argue that the “Great Crash of 1994,” when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 collided with the giant planet Jupiter, played an important role in propelling the impact scenario for the death of the dinosaurs into the (mass) public eye, and that the news value co-option was important in this process.

Type: Article
Title: The public impact of impacts: How the media play in the mass extinction debates
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1130/2014.2505(24)​
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1130/2014.2505(24)​
Language: English
Additional information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1469073
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