Science and journalism have an uneasy relationship in the United States. For a country that has by far the largest scientific output in the world, it seems rather shy of discussing it in its popular media.

Now, I do not wish to suggest the US lacks in science communication. Much to the contrary, it has produced some outstanding science communicators including Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker and Michio Kaku and some great citizen science initiatives such as Science At Home and Zooniverse. Instead, it seems to be something more specific to the mass market of mainstream media.

As a simple experiment, I looked at the 10 most popular, non-aggregator news websites based in the United States to see which ones have a science news section. Here is the breakdown:

USNewSites

Six out of ten top websites choose to have a ‘tech’ section rather than science, and while the content is often similar, it is interesting to note how the same story can be labelled as either science or technology. Indeed, the word ‘science’ has attracted a certain negative connotation in US popular media – for example, the UK animated film The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! was subsequently released in the US as The Pirates! Band of Misfits. We may speculate that the original title was deemed unmarketable for the US consumer, but it highlights the general point that science, or at least things that appear superficially related to science, are not seen as suitable for the mass market.

That is not to say that there are no science programs in the mainstream – the popularity of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a science documentary narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson is a testament to the contrary. But an interesting example is the hit Discovery Channel show Mythbusters, where popular myths are subjected to rigorous tests to determine their validity. The model of Mythbusters is a fantastic example of the scientific method – confirmation through experimentation – but at no point in the show it is labelled ‘science’.

There is clearly an appetite for popular science in the US, and with increasing levels of penetration in media and schools, we are likely to see a positive growth. Despite this, a reticence for the popularisation of science in mainstream media, at least in name, remains. If this trend is deep-rooted or simply an orthodox response to fears of a conservative backlash against the label of ‘science’ remains to be seen, but continuous improvements in education and engagement shows us we are likely to see a lot more science, under that name or another, in US popular media.

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Top 10 most popular non-aggregator news sites based on Alexa ratings on unique page views originating in the United States over the past 12 months.

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