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On the surface, this conflict looked like a battle between an industry and the TV producers who portrayed it negatively. But at its heart was some complicated science that had the potential to scare the public and be sensationalized by the media.

Today’s practitioners of science communication grapple with the difficulty of transmitting science information via the media to a lay audience. This 1998 trial serves as a rare public case study documenting the media’s imperfect attempts to clarify the science of mad cow disease in the midst of a celebrity spectacle.

Ultimately Oprah won the legal case. But how did the public’s understanding of the science fare?

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Image via Flickr Attribution Some rights reserved by Kecko

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