Pew: Few Americans Fear the Loss of Their Local Newspaper



The struggles of the science beat at local newspapers have little or nothing to do with scientific illiteracy or public respect for science and much more to do with the economic climate and a more general and profound absence of public appreciation for the role of the press in civic life. Consider this stark finding from a just released Pew report: Less than a majority of Americans believe that the loss of their local newspaper would critically harm the health of their community.

So what's going on here? Science has been and remains the dominant force in American culture. Research shows that scientists are deeply trusted by the public, and they enjoy high levels of social status and prestige. On key policy issues, the American public believes that scientists have greater levels of expertise and should have more say in key policy debates than religious leaders, industry, or government officials. Over time, Americans have maintained an unchanging optimism in science to improve their quality of life and to grow the economy while public trust in other institutions including the media has plummeted.

So while the public deeply respects and even strongly defers to the cultural authority of science, they use this strong deference as the ultimate heuristic, replacing the motivation to seek out quality science coverage with blind trust on most science-related issues. Only on a few issues such as climate change, evolution, and stem cell research where rival groups tell the public that science is at odds with something else they care deeply about--such as religion or the economy--does broad based public deference and support for science break down. In short, in the U.S. the default for culture is a blind faith in science, rather than a war on science.

So where does the connection to local newspapers come in? Because Americans lack both an appreciation for the importance of news in local civic life and also often strongly prefer to just trust science--many do not realize that if our local news organizations fail, the very infrastructure of our communities grows considerably weaker. In other words, if communities lack a strong source of science and public affairs information tailored to local concerns, than these communities will not be able to adapt to challenges such as climate change or economic recovery. Indeed, their citizens will be ill equipped to participate meaningfully in collective decisions and policy choices.


LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

Why are women are more religious than men? Because men are more willing to take risks.

It's one factor that can help explain the religiosity gap.

Photo credit: Alina Strong on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
  • Sociologists have long observed a gap between the religiosity of men and women.
  • A recent study used data from several national surveys to compare religiosity, risk-taking preferences and demographic information among more than 20,000 American adolescents.
  • The results suggest that risk-taking preferences might partly explain the gender differences in religiosity.
Keep reading Show less

Physicists puzzled by strange numbers that could explain reality

Eight-dimensional octonions may hold the clues to solve fundamental mysteries.

Surprising Science
  • Physicists discover complex numbers called octonions that work in 8 dimensions.
  • The numbers have been found linked to fundamental forces of reality.
  • Understanding octonions can lead to a new model of physics.
Keep reading Show less

Space toilets: How astronauts boldly go where few have gone before

A NASA astronomer explains how astronauts dispose of their, uh, dark matter.

Videos
  • When nature calls in micro-gravity, astronauts must answer. Space agencies have developed suction-based toilets – with a camera built in to ensure all the waste is contained before "flushing".
  • Yes, there have been floaters in space. The early days of space exploration were a learning curve!
  • Amazingly, you don't need gravity to digest food. Peristalsis, the process by which your throat and intestines squeeze themselves, actually moves food and water through your digestive system without gravity at all.
Keep reading Show less