1043   Individual paper

Signs of March for Science: Did They Tell the Right Story?

Author: Shiyu Yang
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

The ideal of science being an impartial enterprise immune from political biases has been a key to consolidating public trust and support for science. Nonetheless, in reality, science is almost inevitably influenced by politics. A direct reaction to the Trump Administration, the March for Science (MFS) global movement has been heatedly debated, as some worry that its political slant could drive further away social segments that are already distrustful of science.

We conduct a novel visual analysis of the protest signs at two marches, the 2017 March for Science in Washington, D.C. and the one in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. We identify common themes in the visual and textual narratives, and empirically examine three broad research questions: 1) to what extent political and partisan messaging is involved in MFS; 2) whether and how the protesters branded their action differently from the MFS organizers; and 3) what types of messages transfer from the civil society to the broader public sphere through news media amplifications.

To answer these research questions, we developed a coding scheme to analyze photos of signs taken on the protest ground (RQ1). Our initial results suggest that most signs contained political themes. Mockery was most often seen when the target was Donald Trump/Republicans. A wide range of environmental issues were brought about, with Earth being a prevalent visual theme. We then examine whether images of signs from the march organizers’ official social media pages contain the same level of political slant (RQ2). We also conduct a Google News search of 310 news items covering the two marches from January 22, 2017, the inception of MFS, to May 31, 2017, when news about MFS died out. We apply the same coding scheme to analyzing images from online news items, taking ideological leanings of different news outlets into consideration (RQ3).

Co-author: Todd Newman
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Co-author: Dominique Brossard
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Co-author: Luye Bao
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

Co-author: Julian Mueller-Herbst
University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

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