During the first months of the pandemic, several studies tried to assess the impact that the situation caused by COVID-19 was having on the social perception of science. While Agley (2020) did not see significant changes in the trust that science aroused in the United States when comparing the opinions collected in December 2019 and March 2020, Funk and Tyson (2020), based on surveys carried out by the Pew Research Center at the end of April 2020, highlighted how the valuation of health scientists had grown remarkably in the United States just one month later. Similarly, the periodic Wissenschaft im dialog (2020) polls showed that scientific research had gained credibility for the German population since the outbreak of the pandemic. In France, on the other hand, the trend was the opposite if we look at the surveys carried out by Ipsos/Sopra Steria for the Center de recherches politiques de Sciences Po (Cevipof) (2020), where a notable drop of ten points was observed in the consideration of the scientists in April 2020. Taking a different approach to the matter, Eichengreen et al. (2021) also pointed out the negative consequences that COVID-19 could have for science. After analyzing the effects of previous pandemics at the international level, the authors anticipated that, while the scientific institution would maintain its status, the image of scientists and the appreciation of the benefits of their work by citizens could be affected by the exceptional health situation.
Despite the fact that all these articles and reports tried to shed light on the degree of trust that citizens place in the scientific enterprise in the midst of a pandemic, the multiplicity of approaches, methodologies and surveys, the different moments of implementation and geographical areas to which they were applied ended up deriving, as we can see, very diverse results. Deviating from the consideration of these variables, the sociologist Michel Dubois (2020) highlights the media exposure of science and scientists during those months and points precisely to it as the cause of the divergent conclusions reached by research such as the ones just mentioned. Although this unprecedented visibility inevitably involves the entire hybrid media system (Chadwick, 2013), we cannot ignore the important role played by television, whose consumption skyrocketed spectacularly at the start of the pandemic. Various articles have approached this phenomenon to account for how television achieved the highest percentages of news consumption compared to the media as a whole (Casero- Ripollés, 2020; Montaña et al., 2020; Masip et al., 2020) and led the confidence of citizens in information on the health crisis, becoming a fundamental reference even for young people (Casero-Ripollés, 2020; Montaña et al., 2020).
The purpose of our writing is to assess to what extent the exceptional media coverage of the pandemic (and especially television) may be motivating citizens to model an image of the scientific research process that is more adjusted to reality and, in general, a new concept of science. And it is that, although during the last century the scientific community managed to move away from the belief in the unlimited knowledge of science, popular culture remains much closer to the vision that the modern imaginary provides (and that the illustration, positivism and the media themselves have taken it upon themselves to perpetuate up to now): an idealized (even mythologized) vision presented to us by a science governed by methodical reason, characterized by its certainty, objectivity, neutrality, and autonomy, and reserved for an elite of experts. Beyond worrying about the social perception of science, like the first investigations mentioned, our contribution will consist of evaluating how the changes that we notice in the media’s treatment of science are contributing to the formation of a new social conception of it and, consequently, pointing towards that democratization of the scientific institution that sociology and philosophy of science have been demanding for decades.
Throughout our journey, we will expose and comment on such changes while trying to answer the following questions in an intertwined way: How did the emergence of the pandemic affect the television schedule? In what aspects did the television approach to scientific activity during the health crisis bring about a change with respect to the type of communication about science to which television had accustomed us? What values traditionally attributed to science have suffered a setback and what alternative characterization of this has been glimpsed as a result of the different approach to scientific praxis that television has carried out? In what way(s) has the television coverage of the pandemic fueled the debate among citizens and fostered their interest in scientific decision-making?