Environment, Science, Media

Media and ‘Undone Science’ in West Virginia’s Elk River Chemical Spill (2017)

Environmental SociologyHow does media coverage matter for environmental conflicts? During environmental and technological disasters, affected residents frequently come into conflict with public officials and scientific experts over the health risks of environmental exposure. Yet public concerns are often dismissed as the result of anxiety and ignorance. As a result, scientific studies rarely address residents’ most pressing questions and concerns. Can the media help change this? In this study of the 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia, I find that the local print media challenged official risk assessments in a way that influenced the direction of research on the chemical contaminant. Some of the research allowed for greater input and involvement from local residents, helping to democratize the scientific process.

Data & Methods: Qualitative analysis of local print media and scientific studies of the chemical contaminant.

Bray, Laura A. 2017. “Media and ‘Undone Science’ in West Virginia’s Elk River Chemical Spill.Environmental Sociology 3(4):359-69. [Fifty free downloads of the article available here.]


Media and the Politics of Non-Knowledge: The Construction of Corporate Deviance in Environmental Conflicts (in progress)

How is corporate wrongdoing and environmental crime covered in the media? This work (in progress), with Sarah Hupp Williamson and Nicholas Membrez-Weiler, looks at how actors use scientific uncertainty as a symbolic resource in environmental conflicts to either excuse or hold corporations accountable for polluting activities. Through a comparative case study of the 2014 Elk River chemical spill (WV) and 2017 discovery of GenX in the Cape Fear River (NC), we investigate how different features of disasters matter for the construction of corporate deviance in the media. Check back to find out about our results!