On the creation of risk: Framing of microplastics risks in science and media
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionGlobal Challenges. 2019, . 10.1002/gch2.201900010
The public is concerned about plastic pollution, while clear‐cut scientific evidence for an environmental risk of microplastics is absent. This contrast between incomplete scientific knowledge and public risk perception is an interesting case for investigating how “environmental risk” is transformed in science communication. This study examines how microplastics risks are framed in peer‐reviewed publications and online newspaper articles, respectively. It also analyzes if the contents conveyed by the frames used in science and the media are consistent. The results show that most scientific studies (67%) frame microplastics risks as hypothetical or uncertain, while 24% present them as established. In contrast, most media articles reporting on microplastic impacts (93%) imply that risks of microplastics exist and harmful consequences are highly probable. The creation of simple narratives (journalists) and the emphasis on potentially negative impacts (scientists) contribute to this inconsistency. The transformation of an uncertain risk into an actual risk is further caused by two inconsistent risk conceptions, namely risk being the probability of a negative outcome (environmental scientists) or being the uncertainty of a negative outcome itself (public). Although the latter differs from the risks identified “objectively” by scientific methods, it allows understanding the risk perception of the public and decision‐makers.