social construction, numbers, mass media


Scholars, notably Joel Best and Milo Schield, have emphasized the importance of incorporating social construction into the study of quantitative literacy. Studying social construction involves examining how numbers are produced, how they travel into the mass media, and how the media use them to depict a social problem or discuss an issue. This article presents a case study in the last of these. It asks in particular how important numbers really are in media constructions of a social problem. It focuses on the “Crack Scare” of 1986 in the United States and a classic study in social construction, Orcutt and Turner’s “Shocking Numbers and Graphic Accounts.” Drawing upon a sample of articles from the New York Times and Newsweek, it argues that the way the media told stories about the Crack Scare actually sidelined numbers, rather than emphasizing them. Numbers are not always as important as some claim them to be.



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