The BP oil spill was a major disaster that brought about many changes some permanent and some temporary. In the field of science communication we set out to examine how the model of science communication has the model of science communication in BP’s press releases changed as a result of the spill. We wanted to know what changes occurred and how permanent the changes were.
We started process with a literature review of the different kinds of science communications focusing on the deficit and engagement models. After a basic analysis of the BP press releases these categories were broken down into even finer detailed assessments of the release’s perceived nature. The deficit model of science communication hammered the reader with fact after fact with no opinion or bias, but left the receiver disconnected from the stories. The engagement model reached out to the receiver to draw them in and make them feel more connected with the decisions being made in the gulf coast. For deficit based communication it was determined that releases fell predominately into either company based reports or educational information. Engagement was much more diverse with its own branch of an educational approach as well as an expert knowledge and dialog interactions.
To begin our analysis, we defined three separate periods regarding the spill: before the spill, during the spill, and the period after the well was capped. We randomly chose 15 releases within each of these three periods for a total of 45 releases to be analyzed. We used the random selection approach in hopes of avoiding any human bias that could have developed from reaction to press release titles. We also threw out any articles concerning internal affairs such as promotions and hirings.
We found that although the dominant model used by BP drastically changed from what we called deficit in the “before” period to engagement in the “during” period, the change was not long lived. In fact, in the period immediately after the well was capped, the model switched rather quickly back to what we interpreted as the deficit model. The graph below illustrates our qualitative analysis of how the model changed throughout the three periods.
We realize that there were a few problems with the methods we used to analyze the question. Firstly, it would have been nice to have more data, and analysis of more releases would have given a more accurate picture of the change that was occurring. Secondly, we found that it was rather difficult to group the articles as solely deficit or engagement which stemmed from the fact that not many press releases are actually intended to engage the audience. Rather we should not have tried to analyze the model of science communication based on the two basic models, but probably should have focused on separating the deficit model, which is what most of the articles truly should have been categorized as, into more specific categories.