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UZH in the Media

Top Ten Media Releases 2023

Stories about research at UZH resonated all over the world, with artificial intelligence (AI) proving a particularly popular topic in 2023. The greatest global media response, however, was triggered by the study on abuse in the Catholic Church.
Barbara Simpson


Shadow of a crucifix on the wall
The study on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church of Switzerland generated the biggest media response in 2023. (Image:

Artificial intelligence and climate change rank among the mega trends, and media interest in research in these areas was correspondingly high in 2023. Media releases about research results in the social sciences and humanities were particularly successful, accounting for seven of the top ten articles.

1. Just the tip of the iceberg

The overwhelming national and international response to the publication of the pilot study on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Switzerland far exceeded the coverage of all other UZH media releases in 2023. Stating that they had uncovered “just the tip of the iceberg”, historians Monika Dommann and Marietta Meier provided the headlines for Le Monde, the BBC and the Times of India. Unsurprisingly, reporting was particularly intense in world regions with a strong Catholic influence, such as South America. In the first three weeks after the media conference over 1,300 media reports were published worldwide – at which point Media Relations stopped monitoring.
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2. AI beats professional drone champions

It was the Deep Blue moment for drone piloting and another crucial milestone in the history of artificial intelligence: just as Gary Kasparov once had to surrender to IBM’s computer, three leading drone pilots had to admit defeat several times to the “Swift” AI system in first-person view drone racing. But for now, human pilots remain more flexible. If external factors such as changing light or wind disrupt the racing conditions, autonomous drones have difficulty adapting. The AI-controlled drone by Davide Scaramuzza’s robotics and perception group caused a stir with articles in Der Spiegel and The Guardian and almost 800 media reports worldwide. Over 150 articles were published each in the US and the UK.
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3. Creative call combinations in chimpanzees

Chimpanzees are more eloquent than previously thought. In various situations, they combine sounds into longer sequences – and make themselves understood. As part of a study by Maël Leroux and Simon Townsend from the Department of Comparative Language Science, model snakes were shown to chimpanzees living in the wild in Uganda; the apes responded with a combination of warning calls and roars of support and thus secured the aid of their peers. The research results thus provide an insight into the evolutionary development of language and were covered in almost 500 media articles worldwide.
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4. GPT-3 informs and lies more convincingly

AI is good at making texts more intelligible, regardless of whether their content is true or false, revealed a study by the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine, which compared AI-generated tweets with those of real users. However, the researchers also attested that the AI language model has a special talent for composing extremely convincing false information. Giovanni Spitale’s study made an impact in the media and was frequently reported in the US Congressional debate on the regulation of AI.
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5. Inspired by insects: new antibiotics for resistant bacteria

Every year, around five million people worldwide die from infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria – and yet no new antibiotic agents have been authorized for more than 50 years. Oliver Zerbe’s group at the Department of Chemistry has now succeeded in specifically modifying the chemical structure of the natural protein thanatin, which insects use to defend themselves against infections. This raises the prospect that a new class of antibiotics will soon be available on the market that is also effective against resistant bacteria. This good news story was picked up over 300 times in a year in which positive news was in short supply.
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6. Women play the beautiful game just as well

It’s scientifically proven: supposed gender differences in the quality of football are only in the eye of the beholder. When the gender of female players was rendered unrecognizable by pixelation, participants in a UZH study rated football videos of top female and male players more or less the same. Carlos Gomez-Gonzalez from the Department of Business Administration and his co-authors concluded that the marketing potential of women’s football remains huge. Coinciding with the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the findings were reported by the media worldwide.
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7. “Bullshit jobs” really do exist

A couple of years ago, American anthropologist David Graeber’s theory on meaningless “bullshit jobs” that are of little benefit to society triggered a strong response. Based on a quantitative data set, sociologist Simon Walo’s study has now confirmed that a considerable proportion of employees – particularly those in finance, sales and management jobs – do indeed consider their work to be socially useless. The research was reported over 200 times internationally, most recently in the run-up to Christmas by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
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8. AI in journalism? No, thanks

In Switzerland, too, the media have turned to AI to help them produce news content, especially since the triumphant rise of ChatGPT. And, unsurprisingly, the media are interested in media topics. Accordingly, the Research Center for the Public Sphere and Society’s representative survey on the acceptance of AI-produced media reports became the second most successful UZH media release in Switzerland. Internationally, our German-speaking neighbors also showed interest. It is anyone’s guess how many of these articles were produced with AI support.
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9. Men prefer to keep it a man’s world

Another sociological study on the world of work attracted media attention in 2023: many women and men still work in gender-typical professions or in gender-specific specializations that cannot simply be explained by gender stereotypes. In yet other professions, the gender composition reverses over time. The reason? According to author Per Block, men are selectively leaving professions that are increasingly practiced by women.
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10. Heidi, girl of the Alps, earns UNESCO heritage status

As a global media phenomenon, Heidi has long since left her beloved Swiss mountainside behind and has found a home in the collective consciousness of entire generations of children and young people. Now she enters an altogether different dimension: the Johanna Spyri Archive and the Heidi Archive in Zurich have been included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Naturally, this honor received positive mentions in Switzerland, but also garnered international attention, notably in Mexico.
Read the media release