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Universiti Teknologi MARA (MALAYSIA) Abstract Number (373)

STEM – Science, technology, engineering and mathematics education/Cross-curricula education

Abstract Scientific literacy which involves public understanding of science can be spurred through media. Young people’s affinity to media makes it more plausible to incite informal science learning through this platform. However, scientists value objectivity while media people emphasize imagery and metaphor that entertains (Carsten & Illman, 2002). Thus, there exists inaccuracy and misrepresentation of science facts delivered through media that can also be attributed to cultural and societal differences. This study investigates how media, specifically advertisements propagate science knowledge in Malaysia and in the United Kingdom (UK). It compares the characteristics of both electronic and print advertisements published. It also examines the accuracy of the science content elaborated and displayed by media in both countries. Data were obtained through observation of electronic and printed media, as well as through interviews with a purposely sampled group of educators. The research highlights a number of similarities with regard to the way science content influences the public, including in terms of instigating misconceptions. The difference between the UK and Malaysian commercial advertisements is that the UK advertisements tend to be more educational in nature, highlight environmental concerns and promote health awareness. Whilst in Malaysia, there is still a lack of focus on the aforementioned issues. Malaysian advertisements do contain scientific knowledge such as the pervasiveness of bacteria in daily life despite relentless exaggeration of scientific facts. The findings contribute to the design of the Malaysian pre-service science teacher’s education in which informal learning from the environment is to be taught as a methodology to disseminate science knowledge to young learners. Keywords: Informal learning, media, science education, science teacher education



Media, defined in the context of this paper as the means of communication (especially television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet) that are designed to reach the mass of the people are currently important providers of news and information to people all over the world. Thus, media including those in online form, play a pertinent role in educating the public.

Informal learning through watching television programs, reading magazines, newspapers and billboards, and listening to the radio exposes one to various information and issues both universally and within the context of one’s own community politics, ethics and culture. Early research has confirmed that media influences culture and that the media play a vital role in the diffusion of culture or transglobalization of culture in indigeneous societies (Steele & Brown, 1995; Adamu, 2006; Bellotti, 2010). Media however, are also the means that bring culture together and the display of media has somewhat been influenced by local culture and context. Government policy is another factor that may influence media. Media attributes in different societies may not be similar thus allowing one to learn from the other. In terms of science education, it is known that the media are capable to reach millions of consumers each week with lots of information and ideas about a range of sciences (Rockman, Bass & Borse, 2007). Scientists have however, been questioning the accuracy of mass media in reporting scientific work (Miller, 1979). The fact that scientist and the media people are from two different professions and background explains this view of inaccuracy. By nature, scientists place high value on objectivity, details and unemotional, impersonal form and style, while the media emphasize brevity, imagery, anecdote, metaphor and other devices that will entertain and inform the viewers (Nelkin, 1995). In a study conducted by Tichenor et al, (1970) on mass communication systems and communication accuracy in science news reporting, “overemphasis on the unique” was rated as the most serious problem, followed closely by “omission of relevant information” and “misleading headlines”. Though media perform an essential role in educating the public on science knowledge and affecting scientific literacy, precision in all scientific facts published by the media is vital as any inaccuracy of its science content may lead to public misinterpretation of information and misconceptions. This is especially true among children who are easily enticed to directly absorb everything that they see or hear. Hence, it is highly likely that they will take in the exaggerated and inaccurate science content displayed in television programs, newspapers or billboards as being real. This may later lead to scientific misconception and flawed scientific literacy. The research reported in this paper was conducted to study the characteristics of science facts published in the Malaysian and British media. The comparison is made between an emerging and developing country and a highly developed one. The findings will shed some light on the different media approaches in the two countries and how media may be appropriated for informal science learning. Apart from that, this study also aimed to investigate the accuracy of science facts elaborated and published by the media in both countries. By doing this, the researchers examine how the misconception of science develops and makes its way through the various forms of media. In short, the research investigates the science contents published by the media in Malaysia and the UK respectively in terms of its characteristics and accuracy. The study also encompasses examination of participants’ perception regarding the roles that media plays in educating the Malaysian and UK public of science knowledge respectively. However, the research focuses mainly on advertisements displayed or published in commercial breaks or commercial advertisements on television, billboards and also the newspaper. 2


The media have great power to influence viewers as billions of people can be reached in a week with information and ideas through advertisements displayed (Rockman, Bass & Borse, 2007). The various forms of media are potential sources for learning but the inaccuracy of facts published may be detrimental to the learning outcomes of the those who utilize them.

The folowing subsections discuss media in relation to informal science learning and the possible misconceptions in Science that may be attributed to media. 2.1

Media and informal Science learning

Jokisalo and Riu (2009) state that unlike formal and institutionalised learning, informal learning is not organised or structured, nor is it necessarily intentional from the learner’s perspective. However, informal learning can be a strong contributor to a person’s knowledge acquisition as it normally happens in a non pressurised environment and may perhaps occur under enjoyable circumstances. Halkia and Mantzouridis (2005) state that many researchers focused on studying the learning of science through formal learning, but only few did the study on the role played by informal sources regarding understanding of science (Jarman & Mc CLune, 2007). Increased number of media such as television, newspaper, billboard, magazines and etc, contributed to appearance of science concepts in a greater variety of context. These informal sources promote the understanding of science (Collins & Bodmer, 1986; Kariotoglou & Papasotiriou, 1999; Wellington, 1990). Press and media carry a great potential for informal learning based on the perception that stimulation and encouragement that originate from outside the formal school setting significantly create life-long learning (Hofstein & Rosenfeld, 1996). Earlier studies indicated evidence that students obtained their knowledge regarding the environmental issues from electronic and written media (television & newspaper) rather than from formal learning in school (Lucas, 1983; Fortner & Teafes, 1983). However, relevant research in media influence on science education has been relatively scarce for reasons highlighted by Chen (1994) that include (1) the complexity of home-viewing environment, (2) Some studies are complex and difficult to design and (3) Science in media is a result of the interpretation and filtration of journalist, audio-recorders and TV producer. Thus, the picture that one gets is not always the actual objective but an interpretive versión (Wellington, 1990; Wellington, 1991]. 2.2

Media accuracy and misconceptions in Science

There have been studies focusing on the accuracy of science facts reported by the media in regards to the news displayed and published on television and also in newspaper (Carsten & Illman, 2002) but there has been very few investigating the accuracy of science facts displayed and published by the advertisements. As reported by Moore and Singletary (1985), inaccurate science facts displayed in advertisements may be due to three sources identified as; 1. Inadequate air time and space 2. Essential details omitted 3. Treatment of story too sensational or too exaggerated Inadequate air time and space is seen as the major factor due to the publication of minimal information coupled with exaggeration in the advertisements to attract viewers to notice it and subsequently buying their product. Other than accuracy of facts, there are also concerns regarding scientific processes and the actual science content displayed and published by advertisements (Carsten & Illman, 2002). Earlier studies also reported similar concerns regarding the accuracy of advertisements (Tankard & Ryan, 1974; Boman, 1978; Singer, 1990; Moyer et al., 1995). With reference to science learning, educators and parents have voiced out their concern on the kind of scientific information and knowledge that their children received from the mass media. A Malaysian educator agreed that there are many exaggerated advertisements published and displayed either on television, newspaper or billboards. The content elaborated or published especially those related to science content are also inaccurate. However, she found that viewers often very readily to believe whatever

they’ve seen in the media (Shireena Basree, personal communication, 25th November 2009). This eventually affect students’ understanding of science and lead to their misconceiving the facts. There are various reasons why misconceptions happened. Levy-Nahum et al., (2004) postulate that insufficient information and the lack of elaborations on certain difficult-to grasp concepts are the usual cause for misconceptions. Researchers have carried out extensive studies to find the answers for misconceptions among children and to a certain extent, among the adults. In most cases, it is not specifically known how informal sources like the media is shaping the public’s understanding on science as most of these researchers are involved in studying the learning of science through formal education (Halkia & Mantzouridis, 2005). The research undertaken looked at various aspects of educating science through media. It was based on the belief that media bring along advantages in the form of informal learning which contribute to scientific literacy. The advertisements displayed and published nowadays contain science elements and can be utilized as an avenue for informal learning. However, it must be approached with caution as there are also media disadvantages. The focus on selling the products may inadvertently lead to distorted information and readily contribute to misconceptions in science. 3


A comparative study between advertisements in Malaysia and in the United Kingdom respectively was undertaken to examine the difference in the characteristics of published and displayed advertisements focusing solely on embedded science elements. The group of researchers comprised a science educator, a teacher educator and a science education student. The qualitative approach was employed in this research. The researchers were the instruments of the research. Data were collected through observations and interview sessions with purposely sampled participants from both countries. One of the researchers travelled to the United Kingdom to conduct observations in three separate cities and interviews with purposely sampled British participants. Similar processes were undertaken with the Malaysian participants. Data were triangulated through the interviews and the observations made by the researchers. 3.1


The process of observation focused on certain aspects; a. The characteristic of advertisements displayed on these media involved. It include, the way on how this advertisements been advertised and also the classification of advertisements itself whether it is interesting, simple or complicated. b. The accurateness of science elements displayed by the advertisement. It includes the process of science and also the science facts displayed. Thorough observations were conducted focusing on three types of media which were advertisements on television, newspaper and also billboard. For commercial advertisements on television the researchers analyzed the advertisements published and displayed on the various television channels in Malaysia and in the UK. The observations took place for a month in Malaysia and another month in the UK. For advertisements displayed in newspaper, the researchers extracted from various daily newspaper everyday during the same duration in order to examine the types and the kind of advertisements. For billboard advertisements, the researchers chose the billboard along Malaysian highways and along the roads, in the town,

along the tube stations and also along the highways in the UK. A checklist is developed to aid the observations. 3.2


Interviews were conducted with both Malaysian and British participants to elicit information regarding various aspects of media (advertisements) and informal science learning. These include a. The characteristics of media /advertisements b. Awareness of science content in media/ advertisements c. Accurateness of scientific facts in the media/advertisements Three Malaysian participants and three British participants were also asked about learning through advertisements. The participants comprised undergraduates, doctoral students and a lecturer. There were two phases of data analysis namely (1) analyzing the data obtained from each country separately, and (2) making comparison between the findings from two countries. Triangulation of data and employing a second person to analyse the participants’ responses were part of the steps taken to enhance the trustworthiness of the research. 4


A total of 150 newspapers, television and billboard advertisements billboards were observed during the stipulated period in the both countries. In general, Malaysian advertisers rely on notions of beauty and the perfect look or setting to market their products while British adverts are generally based on humour. Science as portrayed in Malaysian advertisements tend to entail white coats, laboratories and experiments. Some advertisers find it necessary to list scientific acronyms such as DHA, EPA and FOS. It was found that the Malaysian television advertisements do embed science elements despite having lots of commercial advertisements containing and displaying inaccurate science facts and scientific processes. An example is the portraying of a skunk as a mother to a centipede. Exaggerated contents are also apparent in Malaysian advertisements. The observation on newspaper and billboard found no science elements displayed in the newspaper advertisements. Majority of the advertisement section were focusing on introducing and selling some products, introducing the company to the readers and on services provided by some companies. Billboards in Malaysia display products, introduce multilevel companies, advertise banking services provided and focus on government ideas. Again, rarely can one find a billboard displaying science elements such as that of Sony’s air conditioner and how its use can evade bacteria from spreading in homes. Since the observations in the UK were conducted in December and during the Christmas season, majority of commercial advertisements focused on selling products. However, television commercials in the UK published or displayed many advertisements that contained accurate science facts. The contents were not too exaggerated. For example, commercial advertisement of Bord Gas on MTV channel illustrated the process of carbon dioxide emission and how these could contribute to global warming. There were a lot of commercial advertisement that concerned environmental issues including citizen’s awareness of global warming, recycling process and carbon monoxide emission. Car advertisements also highlighted engines that were ecological and environmental friendly. The transmission time for this kind of advertisement was also quite long. Observation done on billboards resulted in

finding displays environmental issues and health awareness. For example, a billboard in Victoria Station illustrated how plastic containers can cause cancer. In fact, many billboards around the underground train stations in London displayed information concerning health awareness and global warming issues. It was also discovered that for every newspaper the researcher bought, there would be at least one page provided for advertisements on environmental and health issues. For example, Daily Mail newspaper on December 7, 2009 page 16, it highlighted on environmental issues of global warming and how emission of carbon monoxide can contribute to global warming. Again, the Times newspaper on December 9, 2009 page 7, highlighted what people should do to avoid from infected by the diseases. It is also observed that government advertisements played a strong role in educating the citizens in the UK. A table of comparison is generated to aid the reader (Refer Table 1.) Table 1: Comparison between Malaysian and UK Advertisements on Television, Billboards and Newspapers Based on Researcher’s Observation. Aspects

Media type

Country Malaysia


The Commercial characteristic Breaks of science facts published in media

1. Majority are interesting and easily understood by the viewers.

1. Majority are interesting and easily understood by the viewers

2. Majority are too exaggerated in advertising the products

2. Not too exaggerated and display important things in proper way

Billboards & Newspapers

1. Very difficult to find the advertisements that contain science elements

1. Interesting and easy to find lots of advertisements that contain science elements

Accurateness Commercial of elements Breaks science facts displayed

1. Lots of commercial advertisements contain inaccurate science facts, do not follow the science concept or science rule

1. Majority of commercial advertisements contain accurate science facts

2. Majority involved are children’s advertisements and this can lead to misconception

Billboard & Newspaper

1. Not observed since majority do not display science element but there is one that displayed science element.

2. Lots of science fact involve environmental issues (global warming, recycle) and health awareness 1. Many advertisements display accurate science facts and werevery easy to find 2. Emphasis on environmental issues

and health awareness

Findings from the interviews concurred with the observational data. The Malaysian participants agreed on the capability of media to influence the viewers and thus are capable to educate the public. They found what they regarded as science elements in television commercials but were not sure if the information was actually accurate. They also believed that there were convincing science elements in the advertisements for milk products and soap in particular. This led the viewers to believe in the information and set to purchase the related products. A Malaysian participant stated that advertisements are very interesting and done creatively but there are also some commercial breaks that are complicated for viewers to understand. All three of them indicated that they have learnt something through commercial advertisementsThe British participants agreed on the role of media especially in introducing the idea of Science. They were also of the opinion that advertisement should present real dimension of science rather than giving an exaggerated version. The participants were aware of the scientific elements in the advertisements. They agreed that advertisements can be an informal source of learning since people are drawn to interesting ones produced by creative advertisers. People not only are attracted but tend to remember such advertisements. On the other hand, they too agreed that there are inaccurate facts being displayed in British commercials. Consuming product that will lower cholesterol level to 50% or showing fire burning in one’s head when he smokes which finally cause stroke are two such examples. A comparison is made between the responses of the Malaysian and the British participants. Tables 2 and 3 illustrate the findings.

Table 2: Comparison between Malaysian and British Participants’ Responses on Advertisements/Commercial Breaks Displayed on Television Country Aspects

Malaysian participants

UK participants

The influence of media to the viewers

Viewers who do not have basic Viewers can easily been knowledge are easiest to be influenced but depend on certain influenced situation

Awareness of science content displayed in media

Aware and agree that some Aware and agree that a lot of commercial breaks contain commercial advertisements science facts contain science facts

The characteristic of science fact

Some are interesting, simple Interesting but depends on the and easy to be understood but way how it was advertised some are not

Learning through media Learnt lots but depending on Agreed that they can learn science element highlighted something through commercial advertisements Accurateness of elements science facts displayed

Majority contain inaccurate Most of the time it is accurate science facts and too but there are some inaccuracy exaggerated but some are good

Reasons on inaccurate science facts advertisements

1. The government policies are not in place 2. The lack of law enforcement

1. More emphasis on selling product rather than responsibilities to the society 2. Company strategy that fight among each other in showing their product better 3. Lack of viewers’ responsibly to report to the responsible party

Table 3: Comparison between Malaysian and British Participants’ Responses on Advertisements Displayed on Billboards and in Newspapers

Country Aspects

Malaysian participants

UK participants

Awareness of science content displayed in media

Did not notice at all even Most contain science elements but billboard or newspaper that depending on the types contain science element

The characteristic of science fact in media

Agreed that most Most are interesting, simple and advertisements are interesting, easy to be understand due to space simple and easy to understand provided but not the science element since not notice the existence of science element

Learning through media Did not learn anything since Agreed that they learnt lots of they did not notice science science facts and elements based element on billboard and on these media newspaper

Accurateness of elements science facts displayed

Could not be ascertained since they did not notice science element on billboard and newspaper

Majority contain accurate science facts; some contain inaccurate science facts that can lead to misconception

The responses of the Malaysian and British participants thus, supported most of the observations made.Malaysian billboard advertisements lack scientific elements whereas British make use of billboards in public places to edĂşcate the public on health and environemntal matters. The participants concurred that they could learn from the media but nonethless, raised concerns regarding the inaccuracies in the media that could be detrimental to the learners. 5


It can be concluded that the participants agreed that the media (advertisements displayed on television, billboard and also newspaper) play an important role in educating Malaysian and in the UK public on science knowledge since the media has the power to influence viewers to believe. Observations made by the researchers concurred with the fact that there is a strong potential in media with regard to informal learning. This is especially true for young learners who are at the point of receiving science ideas and learning science from the environment. However, inaccurate facts and display of science processes in advertisements may instigate misconceptions among science learners. Rather than scorning the media for such display,

science educators may utilize the misrepresentation of facts and processes as a point to develop critical awareness among learners. By comparing media characteristics from two countries, the researchers are able to identify and distinguish elements of informal learning through media that may be designed into classroom activities. Science teachers may utilize advertisements as science examples or non-examples thus taking care of misconceptions early in the course of science education. The characteristic of science facts displayed or published in advertisements by the Malaysian and British are very much different where most of advertisements in Malaysia are interesting but some are complicated for the viewers to understand especially on the aspects of process of science and also the way the advertisements been made and displayed. While in the UK, majority of the characteristic of science facts displayed in advertisements are interesting, simple and easy for the viewers to understand. Highlighting environmental and health issues through television, newspaper and billboard advertisements is something that can be emulated. Government initiative in educating the public through these media is pertinent as people read and watch advertisements daily. There is a need to develop citizens who have the ability to perceive understandable scientific world, appreciate scientific elements and also know when scientific inquiry is appropriate. This ability to predict and interpret the scientific knowledge in one’s realm is necessary to enhance a person’s scientific literacy. Bringing relevant scientific information into the daily lives of the people will ultimately contribute to the promotion of the scientific literacy of the nation. REFERENCES Carsten, L.D. & Illman, D.L. (2002). Perceptions of Accuracy in Science Writing. Transaction on Profesional Communication. Vol.45 (3), 153-156. Steele, J.R. & Brown, J.D. (1995). Adolescent Room Culture: Studying Media in the Context of Everyday Life. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol 24 (5), 551-576. doi: 10.1007/BF01537056 Adamu, A.U. (2006). Transglobal Media Flows and African Popular Culture: Revolution and Reaction In Muslim Hausa Popular Culture. Mary Kingsley Zochonis Lecture for the African Studies Association, UK Biennial Conference, London Bellotti. K. K. (2010). The History of a Little Brazilian: Material Culture in Evangelical Children’s Media in Brazil, 1980s – Present. Material Religion, Vol. 6 (1), 4 -28. Rockman, S., Bass, K., & Borse, J. (2007). Media Based Learning Science in Informal Environments Commissioned Paper. Retrieved from Miller, C. (1979). A Humanistic Rationale for Technical Writing. College English. Vol. 40 (6). 610-619. Nelkin, D. (1995). Selling Science. New York: Freeman. Tichenor, P., Olien, C., Harrison, A. & Donohue, G., (1970). Mass Communication System and Communication Accuracy in Science News Reporting. Journalism Quart, Vol.47, 673-683. Jokisalao, & Riu, E.A. (2009). Informal Learning in the Era Of Web 2.0. E-learning Papers. Retrieved from http://www.elearningpapers.euBoman, S., (1978) Communication Accuracy in Magazine Science Reporting. Journalism Quart, Vol 55, 345-346.

Halkia, K., & Mantzouridis, D. (2005). Students’ Views and Attitude towards the Communication Code Used In Press Article about Science. International Journal of Science Education, 27(12), 1395 – 1411. Jarman, R. & Mc CLune, B. (2007). Developing Scientific Literacy: Using News Media in the Classroom. Maidenhead UK : Open University Press/ Mc Graw Hill Education. Collins, P. & Bodmer, W. (1986). The Public Understanding of Science. Studies in Science Education, 13, 96-104. Kariotoglou, P., & Papasotiriou, C. (1999). The Educational Aspects of Informal Science Education Programs. Paper presented at the Conference Science as Culture, Como, Italy. Wellington, J. (1990). Formal and Informal Learning in Science: The Role of Interactive Science Centers. Physics Education, 25, 247-252 Hofstein, A. & Rosenfeld, S. (1996). Bridging Gap between Formal and Informal Science Learning. Studies in Science Education, 28, 87-112. Lucas, A.M. (1983). Scientific Literacy and Informal Learning. Studies in Science Education, 10, 1-36. Fortner, W. & Teafes, T.G (1983). Baseline Studies for Marine Education: Experience Related to Marine Attitudes and Knowledge. Journal of Environmental Education, 11, 1119. Chen, M. (1994). Television and Informal Science Education. Informal Science Learning: What Research Says about Television, Science Museum, and Country Based Project. Pennsylvania: Science Press. Wellington, J. (1991). Newspaper Science, School Science: Friends or Enemies? International Journal of Science Education, 13(4), 362 – 372 Moore, B., & Singletary, M.,(1985). Scientific Sources’ Perceptions of Network News Accuracy. Journalism Quart, Vol. 62 (4). 102-115. Tankard, J. & Ryan, M., (1974). News source perceptions of accuracy of science coverage. Journalism Quart. Vol. 51, 219-225. Boman, S. (1978) Communication Accuracy in Magazine Science Reporting. Journalism Quart, Vol 55, 345-346. Singer, E. (1990) A Question of Accuracy: How journalist And Scientists Report Research on Hazards. Vol 40 (4) 102-115. Moyer, A., Greener, S., Beauvais, J. & Salovey, P., (1995). Accuracy of Health Research Reported in the Popular Press: Breast Cancer and Mammography, Health Community, Vol 7(2), 147-161 Levy-Nahum T., Hofstein A., Mamlok-Naaman R. & Bar-Dov Z., (2004), Can Final Examinations Amplify Students’ Misconceptions in Chemistry? Chem. Educ. Res. Pract., 5, 301-325.

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