«1 Contested science in the media: linguistic traces of news writers’ framing activity Trine Dahl, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of ...»
Only the DM headline makes a reference to the phenomenon of geoengineering. The term geo-engineering appears in single quote marks. They may have a pragmatic function, indicating that the headline producer acknowledges that the word may not be well known to the newspaper’s readers. The fact that just one text mentions geoengineering in the headline – the most powerful audience attention grabber − may be similarly interpreted as reflecting the news writers’ perceived lack of awareness in the public about the concept. The BBC headline producer makes use of the expression tech fix. As an alternative to the established scientific term geoengineering, tech fix contributes to a positive appreciation of the research reported on (see below), even though the engagement marker can (which in the phrase can work indicates medium probability) modifies the expectations associated with the research, along with the attribution phrase research suggests, which also represents a heteroglossic utterance (opening up for alternative viewpoints). Evaluation is not necessarily linked to specific linguistic items (Hunston & Thompson, 2000; Martin & White, 2005; White, 2012). However, explicitly attitudinal lexis like controversial (SA), succeed (SA), and success (DM) clearly reflect framing activity.
“The controversy surrounding iron fertilization experiments has led to a thorough evaluation of our results before publication”, comments the marine scientist as an explanation for the long delay between the experiment to the current publication in Nature. (AWI, 2012) There is no elaboration in the press release of what the controversy implies. The SA headline thus through field-specific lexis (spewed iron experiment, carbon sink) indicates that the text will focus on a scientific experiment, but by combining unattributed negative (controversial) and positive (success) appreciation, the message is given a particular slant: even if the experiment as such was a success, the headline producer frames geoengineering research as controversial.
The NYT, GUA, and BBC headlines, too, indicate that a scientific experiment will be the main focus of the text. Of these, only the NYT headline appears as primarily descriptive. The BBC headline, as already pointed out, includes the attributed statement tech fix ‘can work’, research suggests, which infuses both the experiment and geoengineering in general with a positive value (a potential solution to the problem of climate change, incorporating the presupposition that climate change is a problem that can be solved). In the GUA headline, the attributed temporal expression for centuries, study shows contributes to a positive framing of the experiment through intensifying the duration of the effect of the reported CO2 sequestration. It has been questioned whether ocean iron fertilization may offer significant carbon capture in a long-term perspective (e.g., Keith, 2000, p. 270), and being able to conclude on the time aspect is emphasized in the Nature paper (albeit with scientific caution expressed through the lowintensity modal may rather than the more assertive attributed claim can bury…study shows of the
GUA headline; cf. Fahnestock, 1986):
Thus, iron-fertilized diatom blooms may sequester carbon for timescales of centuries in ocean bottom water and for longer in the sediments. (Smetacek et al. 2012, abstract) Finally, it may be noted that the DM headline, like BBC, frames the experiment as a solution to climate change, here expressed by the verb cure (see Nerlich & Jaspal, 2012) and the positive attributed appreciation is hailed a success, while the WP headline adopts an explicitly interpersonal angle through the grammatical form of a question, starting with a low-intensity engagement marker assessing the probability that the experiment may address climate change (‘Could…?’). The verb phrase help us suggests a positive, human interest story (Cotter, 2010).
As for the leads (see Appendix), the two blog posts NYT and WP do not have a typographically marked lead element, found in the other four texts. However, NYT starts with a one-sentence paragraph which seems to serve the traditional lead function of providing a synopsis of the issue/event reported on. WP, on the other hand, has an opening paragraph which exploits a rhetorical strategy not typically found in news reports. It starts off with a first sentence outlining the background for the experiment. Through negative judgment and amplification (dreaming up, all sorts of zany), the scene is set for a science fiction-like account of proposed geoengineering techniques (see Buck, 2013): Artificial volcanoes to cool the air! Giant mirrors in space to deflect sunlight! Fertilizing the ocean with iron to mop up that carbon! Having first placed ocean iron fertilization among the zany geoengineering schemes, the experiment is reframed (indexed through the counter-expectancy marker actually) in a new paragraph which brings the reader back to the real world: As it turns out, that last idea might actually work. Despite the weakening of the argument through the engagement marker might, the phrase might actually work may be interpreted as the journalist accepting the experiment as relevant for addressing global warming.
The conventional lead paragraphs of SA, GUA, DM, and BBC focus on the process involved in the OIF experiment. The GUA lead paragraph reads as a descriptive summary of the experiment (… creates algae blooms that…, taking the absorbed carbon deep towards the ocean floor). The BBC and DM leads, on the other hand, convey attributed positive evaluation, with BBC drawing attention to the time aspect discussed above (can lock carbon away for centuries, research suggests), and DM repeating the information in the headline that the experiment has been hailed a success. Similarly to the WP introductory element, the BBC lead also draws readers’ attention to the broader relevance of the described process (to combat climate change).
The SA lead, on the other hand, conveys a more negative message through the disclaimer but only, pointing to the fact that the experiment’s success is linked to the specific research design, which may limit the usefulness of the technique in general (stimulates blooms of diatoms …− but only under the right conditions).
Framing activity in sources’ statements In addition to fulfilling pragmatic functions such as to authenticate a story and making it more ‘objective’, sources’ statements (in the form of direct quotes or reported speech) have the potential to be a powerful framing tool for news writers, enabling them to give salience to specific aspects of the reported event or issue. The choice of source may in itself indicate a specific framing (Bellamy et al., 2012; Calsamiglia & López Ferrero, 2003). In the present material, the scientific ‘sophistication’ of the phenomena reported on makes it natural for the journalist to look to expert sources for comments. The main source is, unsurprisingly, the lead author of the Nature paper, Professor Smetacek. The WP journalist has only included a reported
statement from Smetacek:
(1) For a variety of reasons, Smetacek has said he doesn’t favor large-scale fertilization without further testing. (WP) The other five texts also include direct quotes by Smetacek. In all the texts the journalist lets him comment on the experiment. The NYT and BBC journalists have him explain the actual research process through quite detailed, person-focused (I/we) descriptions (a common popularization approach; e.g., Adams Smith, 1987; Fahnestock, 1986), with intensified force (very fast, very
excited, like a big cloud, right down to), as in Examples (2) and (3):
(2) “While the experiment was going on, we saw the stocks start to sink − they went down very fast,” he said. “I was very excited to see this happening.” […] “We could see the bloom developing and increasing in size like a big cloud,” Dr. Smetacek said. (NYT) (3) “We had instruments that we could deploy right down to the seafloor, which is at 3,800m depth,” said Victor Smetacek, lead researcher on the new paper. (BBC) However, through most of the included quotes by Smetacek, the journalists retain focus on the research (e.g., Examples 4 and 5) and the broader picture involved in the geoengineering debate (also alluded to in Example 1). DM presents quotes by Smetacek where the researcher
emphasizes the positive aspect of the experiment:
(4) ‘Such controlled iron fertilization experiments in the ocean enable us to test hypotheses and quantify processes that cannot be studied in laboratory experiments.
The results improve our understanding of processes in the ocean relevant to climate change’ says Smetacek. (DM) SA, on the other hand, draws attention to the uncertainty and risk involved, both through the journalist’s choice of negative attitudinal lexis (backfire, toxic, oxygen-depleted “dead zones”) and his own categorical (monoglossic) claim (have no way to), backed by a similarly forceful
statement from Smetacek (cannot be controlled):
(5) In fact, these iron-seeding experiments could backfire by producing toxic algal blooms or oxygen-depleted "dead zones," […] At present, scientists have no way to ensure that the desired species of silica-shelled diatoms bloom. In short, Smetacek says, the type of bloom—and therefore the ability to sequester CO2—“cannot be controlled at this stage.” (SA) In BBC, Smetacek is quoted as admitting to the modest effect the studied geoengineering
technique can in fact have on CO2 levels, expressed through the counter even if…could only:
(6) Prof Smetacek's own analysis is that even if it were deployed on a vast scale, ocean fertilisation could only take up about a quarter of the extra carbon dioxide being deposited in the atmosphere by humanity's industry, transport and agriculture. (BBC) The GUA journalist, through his key source, introduces the dilemma felt by some that it is already too late to mitigate sufficiently to avoid dangerous climate change (an increase in temperature above the 2°C target). Smetacek undertakes a moral evaluation of the current situation (negative judgment: doing nothing…the worst option). If we choose to do nothing, this
might in fact turn out to be the riskiest path to take:
(7) But Prof Victor Smetacek, at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, who led the new research, said: “The time has come to differentiate: some geoengineering techniques are more dangerous than others. Doing nothing is probably the worst option.” (GUA) Except for NYT, all the texts also include statements by other scientists, both named and unnamed ones. None of these sources argue against geoengineering as such, but none of them endorse it unequivocally, either. Some focus on the scientific uncertainty associated with the experiment (SA, GUA, BBC), also touched on by Smetacek (Example 5); some, also like Smetacek (Example 7), see the need for geoengineering (SA (Example 10, below), WP, GUA).
One scientist (GUA, Example 8) acknowledges the value of the research (It is important that we continue), but counters this (but) by bringing up the aspect of governance, indicating that
geoengineering research needs to be closely monitored due to its controversial nature:
(8) Prof John Shepherd, chair of the [2009 Royal Society] report [on geoengineering], said on Wednesday: “It is important that we continue to research these technologies but governance of this research is vital to protect the oceans, wider environment and public interests.” (GUA) The positively presented finding linked to the temporal aspect involved in the technique, referred to in the GUA headline and the BBC lead (see the previous section), is also found in sources’ statements in all the texts, with the exception of SA. In SA, the journalist himself provides a negative downscaled assessment of the sequestration period (But such fallen carbon only resides in the deep for a few centuries at best), thus countering the positive upscaled interpretation provided in the Nature paper (Smetacek et al. 2012, quoted in the previous section).
A similar but even more downscaled assessment of the time element (only for decades to centuries) is made in a named source’s statement in GUA (Example 9), also including a downscaled assessment of the amount of carbon that may be captured (just a fraction).
(9) “The ocean's capacity for carbon sequestration in low-iron regions is just a fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and such sequestration is not permanent — it lasts only for decades to centuries,” said Ken Buesseler, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US. (GUA) Most of the sources’ statements are introduced by the neutral reporting verb say, typical of English-language news texts (Cotter, 2010; Dahl & Fløttum, 2014; White, 2012; cf. Examples 1−5, 7−9), by which the journalist just acknowledges the proposition by the external voice.
However, reporting verbs indicating the journalist’s stance toward the source’s statement (either
endorsing it or distancing him-/herself from it) are also seen, as in Example (10), from SA: