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Science in the Polish popular press--between Eastern and Western colonialism?

Popularization of science and communication of research results have always been one of the most important tasks carried out by scientists. There are multiple ways to fulfil this task--from lectures or conference presentations as means of oral communication, to popular science magazines, to mass media such as radio, TV or the Internet. Thanks to them society is informed about recent developments or discoveries in multiple disciplines of science. The process of communication of science is often called 'mediatisation of science', which term highlights the fact that each type of communication uses specific media. In the term 'mediatisation' the sense of mediation is included, because in both popular science and press reports of recent discoveries the media are employed. Simply, each type of communication dedicated to science -be it horizontal communication within the academic circles or vertical communication from an expert to unprofessional society--is a manifestation of mediatisation of science (Michalczyk, 2009: 18-19; Bednarz, 2009: 115-120).

Communication dedicated to science not only employs the media, but it also is shaped by them. In consequence, the message is adjusted to the requirements of a particular medium, which- owing to its specificity--affects the form and content of the message (Lilleker, 2008). As a result, it is not science that is communicated by the media, but rather an image of science created by them (Paczkowski, 2004: 9-16).

Nowadays, in the era of information, as societies and institutions have become largely dependent on the mass media, people's understanding of science is formed by the media coverage of science, and their perception of research and researchers is shaped by the media content (Mazzoleni, 1999).

In this paper I would like to focus on the analysis of one of dimensions of the image of science that is transmitted by the Polish press, because this image functions as a substitute of science for the laymen. In other words, when people think of, perceive, understand, talk about science, they simply think of, perceive, understand or talk about the image of science, because it is the only manifestation of science accessible to the laymen through the means of media (Kus, 2004: 31-39). In particular, I would like to identify the main directions of the origin of knowledge--countries mentioned in the Polish press mediatisation of science. It is possible as a result of the analysis which research centres (domestic and foreign) are referred to by the press coverage of science as sources of scientific information.


In theory, it can be assumed that the sources of scientific information provided by the press are chosen according to their scientific significance and relevance. Practically, however, what also counts are political and cultural influences of powerful countries and, subsequently, dependency of Polish journalists covering scientific topics on these 'powers'. The question born during the analysis concerns the basic principle behind selection of sources in the Polish press mediatisation of science. In this study I would like to verify the following hypotheses:

1. The press image of the scientific output of particular countries (the map of science) does not reflect reality. By 'reality' I understand the actual scientific position of a particular country measured and evaluated with scientiometric and bibliometric methods and tools. What the press image does reflect, however, is the network of cultural, political and economic dependencies;

2. The press coverage of science depends on the current cultural/political situation;

3. According to the dominant cultural/political trends the main sources of scientific information communicated in the press are either the countries grouped in the Soviet bloc (especially the USSR)--until the transformation in 1989--or the Anglo-Saxon countries (especially the USA)--since 1989.

Colonialism or post-colonialism?

Speaking about political or cultural dependencies brings to mind colonial relations in which imperial countries in various ways conquered other territories. In many popular dictionary definitions of this term, colonialism is described as conquest, rule, or control of an imperial state over dependent territories and their people.

For example, according to Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English we can speak about colonialism "when a powerful country rules a weaker one, and establishes its own trade and society there." On the other hand, definition provided by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is more general. Instead of 'ruling', in the dictionary there is a word 'control' used. Moreover, it refers not only to the land but also the people: "control by one country over another area and its people." A combination of these two approaches is used in a detailed definition of Oxford English Dictionary, in which colonialism is defined as "the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically." As we can see, all of these definitions contain a common element of control--lets add here, intentional control--undertaken by economic and political means, and cultural influences.

Currently it is commonly assumed that the era of colonialism has ended "with the dismantling of the great colonial structures after World War Two" (Said, 1994: 7). However, the manifestations of "control by one country over another area" have not yet ceased to be visible. At present, they are frequently described as 'neo- colonialism' or 'post-colonialism'. It is not easy to distinguish clearly these terms, because both of them include the component of direct or indirect control or influence (political, economic, and cultural).Rooted in them is the idea of imperialism, which "lingers where it has always been, in a kind of cultural sphere as well as in specific political, ideological, economic, and social practices" (Said, 1994: 9).

According to Edward W. Said, who was a founder of critical theory of post- colonialism, "At some very basic level, imperialism means thinking about, settling on, controlling land that you do not possess, that is distant, that is lived on and owned by others. For all kinds of reasons it attracts some people and often involves untold misery for others" (Said, 1994: 7). Noam Chomsky, another influential political writer and a linguist, makes no subtle distinctions between colonialism, neo-colonialism or post-colonialism. Describing the Old World Order (as he called the era before the Treaty of Yalta) he simply equates them, providing different names of the same phenomenon: "The major theme of this Old World Order was a confrontation between the conquerors and the conquered on a global scale. It has taken various forms, and been given different names: imperialism, neocolonialism, the North-South conflict, core versus periphery, G-7 (the 7 leading state capitalist industrial societies) and their satellites versus the rest. Or, more simply, Europe's conquest of the world" (Chomsky, 1993: 3). And Chomsky adds: "There is little reason to expect that 'the great work of subjugation and conquest' will change in any fundamental way with the passing of the Cold War phase of the North-South conflict" (Chomsky, 1993: 87).

Taking for granted that colonialism can be associated with the conquest of South America, Africa, Near and Far East, one can ask, after Ewa Thompson (Thompson, 2010: 1): "Can Poland and other East Central European countries be regarded as postcolonial countries." Thompson, without doubts, responds: "it can hardly be denied that the partitions of Poland in the eighteenth century and occupation of Poland by Soviet Russia after the Second World War were forms of colonialism; that is to say, they included a violent conquest and subsequent efforts to exploit and re- educate the locals who differed from the conquerors linguistically, religiously, and politically" (Thompson, 2010: 2). In other places, Thompson mentions the Germanic and Ottoman imperialisms, which also left their marks on the history of Poland. In this way, in addition to well-established in theory and research overseas colonialism, we also need to distinguish European colonialism (Thompson, 2012). The flourishing of both these forms of colonialism took place in the eighteenth century, their dismantling began in the mid-twentieth century.

As we can see, Poland, located on the very border of the Western world, has experienced colonial tensions from both western and eastern imperialism **. Here, it is worth mentioning that Russian and Soviet expansion over vast territories of Asia and Eastern Europe is not commonly described as colonialism. However, many researchers indicate stark resemblance of this expansion and subsequent subjugation of foreign lands to colonialism (Sowa, 2008: 377; Thompson, 2000; Nowak (editor), 2006).

Worth analysing is how this geopolitical location has resulted in--alleged or actual --cultural dependency of Poland on either the eastern or western empire in the context of the press coverage of science.

Since countries with imperial ambitions indirectly affect the culture of dependent countries, it can be assumed that this will also manifest in the texts devoted to science--in particular, in the selection of sources of the knowledge that is described or delivered in such texts. In consequence, the image of science, and more specific, the sources of knowledge, to some extend reflects actual achievements of the countries cited in the press, but also the proportions shown in this image are probably biased by colonial dependencies.


As we assume that the press has the ability to shape the human perception of reality (and of science too), we should also admit that the greatest potential in this area of shaping belongs to the press that is representative of the Polish press discourse. Press discourse is understood here both as simply the language used in the press (a narrow concept of discourse), and--in a broad concept--as a social practice of transfer, legitimizing, supporting and consolidating the current truths (created by 'the powerful'). After Foucault, we can assume that discourse is a form of organizing relations and social institutions. It serves to universalize standards adopted in the process of communication, making them an intersubjective set of shared social values. Discourse analysis is characterized by an approach including language and society, together with the context of institutionalized action (Foucault, 2002: 21, Grzmil-Tylutki, 2010: 67-69, 134).

Therefore, the material for this analysis was selected very carefully in order to take into account the titles that meet the criteria of representativeness.

The first and most important criterion is that the newspapers and magazines be credible, opinion-forming and prestigious. This is because such titles are read by those who are so-called opinion leaders. These people read and understand a content of a magazine, and form their opinions about a specific topic. Afterwards, within their community, they communicate their point of view to other people, thereby extending the range of influence of the magazine. According to this criterion the material chosen for the analysis should include press titles addressed to adult or adolescent readers of both sexes, preferably of secondary or higher education, medium or high income and coming from the city. These are the qualities characteristic for people able to influence others--for people who feel the need to read, who can find a way to access (purchase, loan from the library), have purchasing power and besides, who enjoy prestige in society. Moreover, the selected press titles should preferably be nationwide or at least cover a large territory.

Since the condition is representativeness, we must also take into account the criterion of potential and actual readers' access to an individual title. It is a quantitative criterion. One of its dimensions is the magazine's circulation (supply, potential use). The other dimension is the readership (demand, actual use). Access to this type of data is made possible by conducted regularly national surveys of readership.

According to these criteria there are 9 magazines selected for the year 1975 and 9 magazines for 2005 [Table 1].

The choice of the years 1975 and 2005 allows to perform a comparative and contrastive analysis. These years differ in many respects--the political and economic system of the Polish state, the functioning of the media, and most of all-- memberships of the blocks or international associations and subsequent political, economic and cultural interdependencies. The year 1975 in Poland fell at the time of economic recovery. The main slogan promoted by the authorities was "may Poland grow strong and people live prosperous"The authorities declared transition from "an industrial revolution" to a new stage of "a technical-scientific revolution". At the same time, communism was the official ideology and the Polish United Workers Party was the leading political force, acting upon close collaboration with the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, the year 2005--16 years after the fall of communism in Poland --was a time of strengthening democracy and capitalism. By this time Poland had become a member of the NATO and the European Union. Pluralism in politics and the media resulted in revival of formerly existing or creation of new various newspapers and magazines in the Polish market.

Percentage of citations in 1975

In this paper, the approach adopted to analyse the content of the press (in particular --the references to textual, institutional or personal scientific sources) is analogous to the approach applicable in bibliometric studies. Thus, by analogy to academic communication, in which references to other scientific works--books or papers etc.--are called citations, references to scientific output of different countries included in the selected material are also called citations, although they usually do not include--compulsory in the scientific literature--footnotes providing accurate bibliographic information.

The chart below presents a percentage of references to scientific output of different countries (the citations of countries) in 1975. Total number of citations in this year is 1287. The category "unknown" on the horizontal axis refers to all of these situations, when the texts contain references to scientific achievements of other researchers, but without an indication of their nationality.

As we can see in the chart, Poland is the most frequently cited country (436 times, this is almost 34% of all citations), which has several probable causes. First of all, when media, especially those subsidized by the state, inform of the scientific activity undertaken by the home country, they also fulfil their obligations that result from the mission, and to some extent they perform patriotic duties. Although these are not strictly scientific facts, they significantly affect the image of science transferred by the press.

Taken into account should also be the fact that media in the communist regime, due to their strong politicization, publicized the achievements of socialism--among others achievements in the field of science, which was the triumph of rationalism over religion and--as the communist leaders claimed--superstition.

In this quest for full rationality science was the main--because objective--ally and weapon. In addition, the very high rate of citations of Polish scientists and research centres is related to an easy access to sources of information (whether through a news agency, or by personal communication).

To sum up, the highest percentage of citations achieved by the communist regime should be treated with reserve. It is because the high citation rate does not necessary reflect the actual high level of scientific performance. A preference for indigenous research centres as sources of knowledge for popular science is rather a consequence of the previously mentioned factors.

One of the hypotheses posed in this study was an assumption that the presence of references to scientific sources coming from various countries of the world is derived from political and cultural roles of these countries.

Until 1989 the Polish state remained under the political influence of the Soviet Union, which then functioned as a hegemon. To the same Eastern Bloc there belonged other so called people's democracies--communist countries under the influence of the Soviet Union. Members of the Eastern Bloc were interconnected politically, economically and culturally.

The net of interdependencies enabled the transfer of not only political and ideological matters, but also prolific scientific achievements of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc.

On the other hand, in accordance with this scheme, achievements of the countries located on the other side of the Iron Curtain should remain -if not completely ignored--undoubtedly unexposed.

As results of the analysis presented in the chart indicate, one cannot defend this hypothesis. Although the Soviet Union gained a lot of citations (146, what amounts to over 11.3% of total citations), it is only on the third position of ranking-- behind the United States (229, this is almost 17.8% of the sum of citations). Other communist countries also are poorly present in the Polish press texts about science.

If we assume that the Eastern Bloc comprises, according to the common use of the term, the countries under the influence of the Soviet Union, both in Europe and in other parts of the world (Asia, South America), it turns out that the list of these countries mentioned in the Polish press texts about science covers 8 countries.

The list of competitors of the Eastern Bloc has 21 countries. These are capitalist countries, once labelled the "First World" (the communist countries were called "The Second World") ***. Total percentage of their contribution amounts to 40.4%.

The USA is the undisputed leader of this group. Polish authors referred to scientific output of this country 229 times (what covers 17.8 % of all citations). Distribution of citations in this category is very patchy--outside the US, no state received more than 10% of citations, and only seven states exceeded 1% of citations (France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Sweden, and Japan).

What is worth emphasising, in 1975 Poland--although under a strong influence of the Soviet Union, although censored or suppressed--was clearly a pro-Western oriented country.

Percentage of Citations in 2005

Thirty years later, in year 2005, one can expect that the press coverage of science will reflect the momentous changes that have taken place since the fall of communism in Poland. By this time, the Polish state had broken off the dependence on the eastern imperium and there had been a political and economic reorientation towards the West. Moreover, it has to be noted that after the fall of communism in Europe the globe was no longer divided between two competing blocks.

It does not imply, however, that imperial ambitions of powerful countries had ceased. The period after the collapse of colonial empires (for the countries of Western Europe) and--even more visibly--after the dissolution of Soviet Union had been used to build a new world order.

Results of the analysis of the material from 2005 can be seen as an illustration of this new worlds order. This ranking brings little modifications to the list of the most frequently cited countries in comparison with the one from 1975.

A significant change occurs in the first positions of the list. In the ranking, the United States take the position ahead of Poland, so a clear preference of Polish authors for scientific content coming from this country can be observed. Poland's position in this ranking is still high, most probably because of fulfilling mission duties.

Percentage of citations of Polish scientific output--although relatively high-- is lowered at the expense of growth in the number of references to the United States.

The chart below presents a percentage of references to scientific output of different countries in 2005. Total number of citations in this year is 4736. Like in the previous chart, the category "unknown" shows references to scientific achievements of researchers whose nationalities or affiliations are not given in the texts.

What is worth highlighting, the first positions in the ranking are occupied by western countries--most of them from so called Euro-Atlantic civilisation. To this group there belong the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Switzerland--to mention those on the top. Besides them, Japan (86 citations what equals 1.8% of the total number of citations), and Israel (42 citations, 0.9%) also are frequently cited, mostly due to the fact of highly developed technology.

Besides the USA and United Kingdom, the percentage of citations of other countries is relatively low, because only nine countries exceed 1%. Still, their presence in the Polish press is significant in contrast to stark absence of the "eastern" countries--formerly associated with the Soviet hegemon, now burdened with a post-communist legacy ("the East" here should not be understood geographically but rather culturally). The chart shows that only two countries formerly belonging to the Eastern Bloc-- Russia and the People's Republic of China (PRC)--were mentioned in the Polish press as sources of scientific information. They take position near the bottom of the ranking, and the sum of their citations amounts only to 1.5%.

On the other hand, the list of western, capitalist or highly developed countries comprises 18 countries. What is more, distant West (the US, the UK) is more popular as a source of scientific knowledge, while near West (Germany, France, Switzerland and so on) creates a dense peloton of low frequency in the press.

To sum up, the analysis shows that after political transformation, with freedom, pluralism, no censorship, no repressions, Polish journalists cited scientific sources--personal and institutional--mostly from the Western civilization, also referred to as Euro-Atlantic. As mentioned before, although the ratio between the main countries has changed a bit, the overall picture of scientific sources cited in the press is very similar for 1975 and 2005.


Results of the analysis presented in both charts seem to contradict the thesis that presence of references to scientific sources coming from various countries of the world is derived from political roles of these countries. As shown in the charts, mediatisation of science in the Polish press employed mostly western sources--regardless of the officially declared association with the Soviet Union in 1975. The findings clearly indicate that Poland has always been a western oriented country.

There are several possible explanations of this orientation. One of them is the fact that Polish culture, legal and political system, science as well as religion, have been rooted in the Western tradition--ancient Greek, Latin, Christian, and finally in the humanistic and modernist exemplars from Western Europe. This legacy--being a result of the centuries-old relations with the countries of the West, in which Poland has entered--today also determines the directions of the relations and alliances.

Moreover, the reluctance to refer to the Eastern tradition could arise simply from the aversion to the empire that imposed its influence over Polish society. Poland at that time officially belonged to the Eastern Bloc, but Polish society mentally did not approve of this fact. Probably, a relatively small number of references to Soviet scientific output is a manifestation of this attitude.

However, the preference of Polish journalist to refer mainly to American sources can perhaps be the aftermath of some kind of servility manifested in Polish culture (mainly--mass culture). Servility typical of countries influenced by other powers, which could be called imperial. Ewa Thompson traces this servility to an inferiority complex of a part of the Polish elite that is one of the characteristics of colonialism in Poland: "One of the results of subaltern status is a gradual acceptance by the conquered population of the interpretation of that population offered by its colonial rulers. One of the goals of colonial discourse is to construe an image of the colonized as degenerate or backward, for this image justifies violence against them and facilitates the execution of power" (Thompson, 2010: 3).

The process of "bowing one's head" (showing appreciation towards the leading countries, together with a bitter feeling of one's backwardness) by the Polish elite started more or less with the partitions of Poland in the mid-18th century. However, in the second half of the twentieth century the colonial hegemon--the Soviet Russia--did not offer any exemplars worth following. The real hegemon--although powerful and feared--was not respected. Therefore, the Polish society in a quest for these exemplars to follow turned towards the West--not for the first time, by the way. In this way, the western countries have become what Ewa Thompson called 'a surrogate hegemon' (Thompson, 2010: 6-8). In the context of scientific sources cited in the Polish press, it seems that the vast preponderance of sources coming from the West, especially the United States, is a manifestation of 'bending one's head' before the surrogate hegemon.

Finally, I would like to answer the question whether Poland can be described as a country between two colonial powers (western and eastern). If one admits that a preference in the Polish press texts about science to sources coming from a particular country can be treated as a manifestation of colonialism, then the answer to this question is positive. Two reservations, however, should be made. First and foremost, according to the press texts, one cannot talk about Poland being between two types of colonialism, as in the Polish press references to the leading role of the West strikingly predominate over the references to the East. This implies that -as long as we can perceive it as a manifestation of colonialism -it is colonialism from the West, more specifically--the United States of America. The other colonialism (being under real political, economic, cultural influence of the Soviet Union) was apparently not as significant as to affect the content of Polish texts dedicated to science. And here, the concept of the 'surrogate hegemon' comes to our aid, because it properly separates a real, physical and direct dependence on the Soviet Russia from a mental, cultural and indirect dependence on the West.

We should also note the fact that if the texts devoted to science included references to scientific achievements of particular countries, these achievements really existed. It means that the Polish press texts referred to the USA's scientific output because the achievements of this country were the most significant and outnumbered other countries' output. In contrast, the lack of references does not automatically indicates the scarcity of achievements or their unimportance. So, if one can partially agree that the press distribution of sources to some extent corresponds to their actual scientific performance, the proportions of this distribution seem to be deformed by a biased perspective adopted by the writers. This perspective does not necessarily mean being under any country's direct influence. It can simply reflect Polish writers' postcolonial servility and reverence for the western direction.


The project was funded from the National Science Centre on the basis of the decision number DEC-2012/05/N/HS2/03135.


Bednarz, M. (2009). Medialna mitologizacja rzeczywistosci [Media mythologisation of reality]. In Kolczynski, M., Mazur, M., Michalczyk, S. (editors), Mediatyzacja kampanii politycznych [Mediatisation of political campaigns], Katowice: University of Silesia Publishing House, pp. 115-122.

Chomsky, N. (1993). Year 501. The Conquest Continues, London: Verso.

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Kus, M. (2004). Niebezpieczenstwa medializacji i popularyzacji nauki [Dangers of mediatisation and popularization of science]. In Gruszka, B. (editor), Medializacja nauki[Mediatisation of science], Warszawa: Foundation for Polish Science, pp. 31-39.

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Article Info

Received: April 27 2014

Accepted: May 6 2014

Anna Lach, PhD student, University of Wroclaw, Faculty of Philology, Institute of Information and Library Science, Phone 0048 71 375 28 60, E-mail:

** According to post-colonial interpretations, Poland itself in some respect contributed to the emergence of a kind of colonial tensions between the centre and the periphery in the course of the First Republic of Poland. Tomasz Zarycki, mentioning such attempts of post- colonial interpretations asks a question: "To what extent one can speak of the First Republic of Poland as of imperial power, and its periphery--which are now separate states--as its colonies?"(Zarycki, 2008: 34). Zarycki, however, does not give any simple answer, as this question is currently the subject of debate.

*** The terms of the "First World" and "Second World" were introduced to political science and sociology probably by Alfred Sauvy in 1952 to determine the division of the world into two ideologically hostile camps. The First World was composed capitalist countries of Western Europe and North America, and the Second World embraced the socialist countries. Apart from them, Alfred Sauvy also distinguished the Third World that comprised courtiers not involved in the conflict.
Table 1. Representative press titles in 1975 and 2005


Dookola Swiata [Around the World]
Kulisy [Backstage]
Kultura [Culture]
Panorama [Panorama]
Perspektywy [Perspectives]
Polityka [Politics]
Przekroj [Cross-section]
Trybuna Ludu [Tribune of the People]
Tygodnik Powszechny [General Weekly]


Gazeta Wyborcza [Electoral Daily]
Polityka [Politics]
Tygodnik Powszechny [General Weekly]
Gosc Niedzielny [Sunday's Guest]
Przekroj [Cross-section]
Wprost [Direct]
Rzeczpospolita [Republic Daily]
Przeglad [Review]

Chart 1. Percentage of citations in 1975

Percentage of citations (1975)

Poland            33.9
USA               17.8
USSR              11.3
Unknown           9.5
France            5.6
UK                2.7
Germany           1.3
Canada            1.2
Sweden            1.1
GDR               1.0
Japan             0.9
The Netherlands   0.9
Mexico            0.8
Switzerland       0.6
Austria           0.6
Czechoslovakia    0.6
Finland           0.6
Denmark           0.5

Source: Author's own compilation

Note: Table made from bar graph.

Chart 2. Percentage of Citations in 2005

Percentage of Citations in (2005)

USA           38.9
Poland        17.0
UK            10.8
Unknown       8.6
Germany       3.1
France        2.5
Australia     2.1
Japan         1.8
Canada        1.5
Switzerland   1.4
Italy         1.3
Netherlands   1.1
Sweden        1.0
Israel        0.9
Russia        0.8
PRC           0.7
Denmark       0.5
Spain         0.5
Austria       0.5
Norway        0.4
Belgium       0.4
South Korea   0.4

Source: Auhor's own compilation

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Title Annotation:Original Paper
Author:Lach, Anna
Publication:Revista de Stiinte Politice
Date:Apr 1, 2014
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