May 20, 2009

When Science Makes News

# of stories
Stem Cells 149
Discovery 116
Endeavour 112
Space Station Troubles 90
Cyber Security 79
Hubble 66
Phoenix 61
iPhone 34

No. 6 – Hubble’s rank among top science and technology stories

Last week, NASA astronauts made their fifth and final mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, adding a high-powered camera and a spectrograph, which scientists hope will reveal information about the origin of the universe. Filling 3% of the newshole, Hubble was the No. 7 story the week of May 11-17, 2009.  That one week of coverage was largely responsible for making the telescope the sixth-biggest science and technology story overall since PEJ’S News Coverage Index began in January 2007. In that period, PEJ has identified 66 stories about Hubble, the overwhelming majority of which were generated last week.

That still leaves the Hubble saga well behind the top science and technology subject in the past two years—a story that also has significant political implications. Since January 2007, the stem cell debate has generated 149 stories. The biggest single week of coverage (50 stories) occurred in March of this year, when President Obama lifted the ban on stem cell research funding. Overall, however, space missions seemed to dominate the science and technology coverage.

Following the stem cell controversy was coverage of space shuttles Discovery (No. 2 with 116 stories), which took three trips to the international space station in October 2007, June 2008, and March 2009 and Endeavour (No. 3 with 112) which took two trips into space in August 2007 and November 2008. The fourth-biggest science and technology story was the failure—and then fixing—of the computers on the International Space Station in June 2007 (90 stories). The issue of cyber security (79 stories), matters dealing with computer hackers and cyber spies, was in fifth place. The mission to Mars by the robotic spacecraft Phoenix beginning in May 2008 was No. 7 (61 stories) and the iphone, introduced in January of 2007 and released for sale in June of that year, was the eighth-biggest topic at 34 stories.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ