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IP102 Science, Society, and the Media

A crowd of protestors with placards relating to science
Dr Bryan Brazeau
Dr Bryan Brazeau
Module leader
Core module
Terms 1-3 | 24 weeks
44 contact hours: 1 x 2 hour workshop per week
4 workshops
Not available to students outside the School for Cross-Faculty Studies
How is scientific knowledge produced? How is it different from the knowledge generated in the Humanities and Social Sciences? How is it transmitted to the public? To what extent do political, financial, philosophical, and linguistic frameworks transform that knowledge? This module will explore the generation and dissemination of scientific knowledge through peer-reviewed articles, public-facing media such as news reporting, science fiction, and popular science writing. It will support you in critically reflecting on received wisdom regarding society’s understanding of science, and how you can proactively and productively intervene in public discourse on scientific topics.  

Principal Aims

In this module, you'll engage with contemporary questions around the public understanding of science, scientific objectivity and universality, and the role that the media plays in communicating science.

This module tackles the prevalent assumption that "despite the huge strides made in technology, we still live in scientifically illiterate society" (Gregory 2000). It examines how science works to construct knowledge, the history and sociology of science, and the ways in which public decisions are shaped by the media's representation and manipulation of science.

The module's content introduces you to a set of topical issues raised across various forms of media, invites critical and creative responses to them through close analysis of case studies, and exposes you to practical considerations inherent in understanding science such as the quantification of risk, and the notion of proof (or lack thereof).

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the media's role in shaping the public's understanding of science and the practical consequences of the media's representation of specific scientific "issues";
  • Express your own individual understanding of the ways in which institutional interests influence science and shape media reports;
  • Apply and critique at least two theoretical stances explicating the relationship between science and institutional interests;
  • Understand and explain the complex relationship between science and other academic disciplines;
  • Demonstrate and deploy appropriate methods of critical analysis of media, news, and popular culture;
  • Demonstrate the development of research, writing, and presentation skills; and
  • Examine how scientific knowledge is constructed and its contexts of production.


The module's structure is based on problems and case-studies around the broad nexus of Science, Society, and the
Media. Because these topics are dynamic and characterised by ongoing debate, each year the syllabus will be
reflective of active debates and contemporary challenges. An example syllabus may include:

1. The Science Wars
  1. Introduction: Science and the Public
  2. Science vs. Pseudoscience: The Problem of Induction
  3. Scientific Revolutions and Shifting Paradigms
  4. Two Cultures, Both Alike in Dignity?
  5. Academic Hoaxes and Their Consequences
2. Science and Power
  1. Science and the Status Quo
  2. Biology and the Patriarchy
  3. System Breakdown: Science, Institutions, and the AIDS Crisis
3. News Media and Science
  1. "Fear of Mob Rule" and the Public Sphere
  2. Science and popular culture: Fear and Hope in Science Fiction 1950-1993
  3. News media constructions of science: Climate Change
  4. Risk transmission and Public outrage: MMR
4. Science in the Digital Public Sphere
  1. Science and the Spectacle: Memes and Fake News
  2. Rethinking "Common Sense:" Social Representations of Science
  3. Networked Science: New Media Strategies for Public Engagement


Group Poster Presentation

Paradigm Shift Science Fair (25%)


Critical essay: 2,000 words (30%)

Practical Exam

Science and the Media Production: 30 minutes (25%)

Written Exam

1 hour in-class test (20%)

Indicative Reading List

Alberti, S. J. M. M. (2005) ‘Objects and the Museum’, Isis, 96(4), pp. 559–571. doi: 10.1086/498593.

Bauer, S. W. (2015) The story of science: from the writings of Aristotle to the big bang theory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Brake, M. and Weitkamp, E. (2010) Introducing science communication: a practical guide. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

De Beauvoir, S. (2009) The second sex. Trans. C. de, Borde and S. Malovany-Chevallier, London: Jonathan Cape.

DeSalle, R. and Tattersall, I. (2018) Troublesome science: the misuse of genetics and genomics in understanding race. New York: Columbia University Press.

Emden, C. and Midgley, D. R., eds., (2013) Beyond Habermas: democracy, knowledge, and the public sphere. New York: Berghahn Books.

Gregory, J. and Miller, S. (2000) Science in public: communication, culture, and credibility. Cambridge, Mass: Perseus Pub.

Habermas, J. (1991) The structural transformation of the public sphere: an inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Translated by Thomas Burger. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Henry, J. (2012) A short history of scientific thought. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hume, D. (2014) An enquiry concerning human understanding. Edited by T. L. Beauchamp. [Oxford]: Oxford University Press;
The Clarendon Edition of the Works of David Hume.

Koertge, N., ed. (1998) A house built on sand: exposing postmodernist myths about science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kuhn, T. (1963) “The Function of Dogma in Scientific Research,” in A. Crombie, ed., Scientific change: historical studies in the intellectual, social and technical conditions for scientific discovery and technical invention, from antiquity to the present. London: Heineman.

Latour, B. (1999) Pandora’s hope: essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Markham, T. (2017) Media and everyday life. London: Macmillan Education.

Nelkin, D. (1996) ‘The Science Wars: Responses to a Marriage Failed’, Social Text, (46/47). doi: 10.2307/466846.

Olson, R. (2015) Houston, we have a narrative: why science needs story. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Pinker, S. (2018) Enlightenment now: the case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. London: Allen Lane.

Popper, K. R. (2002) The logic of scientific discovery. Translated by the author. London: Routledge.

Snow, C. P. (1959) The two cultures and the scientific revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sokal, A., (1996) “A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies,” Lingua Franca 4.

———, (1996) ‘Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity’, Social Text, (46/47). doi: 10.2307/466856.

———, (2000) The Sokal hoax: the sham that shook the academy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Sur, Abha. (2008) ‘Persistent Patriarchy: Theories of Race and Gender in Science’ Economic and Political Weekly, pp. 7–8.

Yearley, Steven. (2005) Making sense of science. London: SAGE Publications.

N.B. Due to the dynamic nature of the module, readings will change each year, based on active debates and challenges. The course will also make extensive use of academic articles, book chapters, journalistic articles, and other forms of written media as required by the individual topics.