City Research Online

Threshold Concepts in Science Journalism

Evans, R. (2021). Threshold Concepts in Science Journalism. Journalism Education, 10(3), pp. 12-22.


Reporting of the COVID pandemic and the climate crisis has highlighted the importance of scientific literacy as a key skill for journalists. In the post-truth era where conspiracy theories and misinformation abound on social media, informed and accurate reporting has never been more important. The journey from news journalist to science journalist involves acquisition of specialist skills and knowledge, some of which is counterintuitive to the traditional practices of journalism.

Threshold concepts are transformative, troublesome and difficult to grasp. They are conceptual gateways or portals in disciplines. They can cause students to become anxious and stuck but once mastered they are unlikely to be forgotten and can transform a student's view of the world.

Reflecting on teaching of a specialist science journalism module at two London universities, this paper will use action research to identify seven threshold concepts involved in the instructional journey from news journalist to science journalist:
• understanding of the scientific method;
• distinguishing the views of people with strong opinions from those with compelling scientific evidence;
• avoiding false balance;
• beware of the maverick and the miracle cure;
• correlation is not causation;
• chance event clusters;
• regression to the mean.

It is suggested that introducing these concepts into more general discourses in journalism education could illuminate and inform the reporting of science, health and the environment, broaden the education of journalism students and improve their employability.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Q Science
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
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