Stories about Science: Communicating Science Through Entertainment Media

This post originally appeared on the British Science Association Blog.

At the recent Science Communication Conference in Manchester from 18-19 June, David A. Kirby featured on the panel session ‘What’s the story?’. David’s session delved into the story-telling sphere, divulging the secrets of telling a narrative in science.

We are now in a golden age of science-based entertainment media.

Every science-based entertainment product is a unique and complex cultural artefact created for a specific audience, format, and purpose. It would be difficult to come up with a template or set of generic rules that could be applied by practitioners in all science communication projects or encompass all forms of entertainment media.

poster-1The ‘Stories about Science’ symposium, held at the University of Manchester in early June, facilitated discussions and provided insights into the fascinating links between science and entertainment.

There were debates about audiences, distinctive media platforms (television, film, radio, video games, comics, online media), the incorporation of science into narratives, and how science in entertainment media might influence public engagement with science.

But, what can practitioners learn from academic work exploring science communication and entertainment media?

  1. The practice of science communication is not the same as teaching science. Instead, it encompasses different audiences and a diverse range of contexts including science clubs, museums, theatres, and cinemas as well as the home.

  2. Ideally scientists should be involved from an early stage because it is easier to and cheaper to implement changes before production gets underway. Working with professionals within the creative industries is a collaborative process – they are specialists in entertainment who have sought out specialists in science.

  3. How does the science content change across ages, media, and genres? When considering target audiences, practitioners should be attuned and responsive to their needs and adapt the communication strategy accordingly.

  4. Science communication is not a pedantic exercise in disseminating scientific facts or identifying and correcting misconceptions. Practitioners should acknowledge the boundaries of their knowledge and limits regarding the science under discussion and avoid overselling science.

  5. The aim should be to inspire audiences rather than (re)educate them. Science communication is not science education. Most science-based entertainment media products do not intend to communicate scientific ‘facts’ but rather use science to entertain in an informed and believable fashion. Entertainment media can, however, inspire its audience and encourage participation and interest in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.

  6. Be reflexive and consider the ways in which science shapes and is shaped not just by professional scientists, policy makers, and media producers, but also by society at large.

  7. Scientists can have a positive influence on creative media productions where opportunities arise – although the UK does not currently have a formal institute that facilitates professional relationships between entertainment producers and scientists. In contrast, the United States has The Science & Entertainment Exchange that actively attempts to ‘create a synergy between accurate science and engaging storylines’. One of the goals of the Science and Entertainment Lab is to aid in the creation of a similar association to benefit the vibrant scientific and entertainment media communities in the UK.

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