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IP102 Science, Society and the Media

Dr Bryan Brazeau
Dr Tim Burnett

Module Leaders

Terms 1 - 3
22 weeks
44 contact hours:

1 x 2 hour workshop per week

2 field trips
4 workshops
Not available to students outside the School for Cross-Faculty Studies

Principal Aims

The module engages students with contemporary questions around the public understanding of science, scientific objectivity, universality, and the role that the media plays in communicating science. The module tackles the prevalent assumption that "despite the huge strides made in technology, we still live in a scientifically illiterate society" (Gregory 2000) and examines the ways in which public decisions are shaped by the media’s representation and manipulation of science. The module’s practical components introduce students 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 students to practical considerations inherent in understanding science such as the quantification of risk, and the notion of proof (or lack thereof).

Principal Learning Outcomes (2018/19)

By the end of the module, students 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 their 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
  • Examine how scientific knowledge is constructed and its contexts of production
  • Demonstrate and deploy appropriate methods of critical analysis of media, news, and popular culture
  • Demonstrate the development of research, writing, and presentation skills

Syllabus (2018-19)

Term 1
  1. Introduction: Science and the Public
Problem 1: The Science Wars
  1. Science vs. Pseudoscience
  2. The “Scientific Method” and Paradigm Shifts
  3. Science and Academic Culture
  4. Science vs. Academic Culture
Problem 2: The Military/Industrial Complex
  1. Science Museums and the Public Sphere
  2. Capitalism and Scientism: The Scientific Enlightenment and its Discontents
  3. Science, Society, and the Patriarchy
  4. Scientific Research and the Defence Industry
  5. In-Class Test
Term 2
  1. Introduction
Problem 3: How does Media affect the way we view and interact with science?
  1. Science and popular culture: Hope, Fear, and Metaphor in 1950s Science Fiction
  2. News media construction of science: Climate change
  3. Risk, its transmission, and public outrage: The case of MMR
  4. The perfect storm: The BSE crisis in the UK
Problem 4: Globalisation, Automation, and Anxiety: Utopia or dystopia?
  1. The bright utopia of automation: 20th century futurism
  2. Dystopia and threat: AI and automated warfare
  3. Automation and employment: livelihoods in and beyond the 21st century
  4. Science and globalisation: Challenges and opportunities
  5. Group Media Presentations and Discussion

Assessment (2018/19)

Indicative Reading List (2018/19)

  Reading List IP102 Term 1- 2018-2019

N.B. 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.