Science, Environment and Risk Communication

Module code: MS3003

Module co-ordinator: Anders Hansen

Module Outline

From climate change, nuclear disasters, and chemical pollution to genetically modified animals and the safety of our everyday diet, the media are a major source of public information about health, medicine, science, technology, environmental issues and everyday risks. Public images and understanding are drawn not only from the daily parade of ‘expert’ advice and information in news, documentary and factual media output, but from the vast pool of cultural constructions of expert knowledge, science, technology, and medicine in film and entertainment media. In this module we will study how deep-seated popular culture images and metaphors provide the context through which public risks, popular fears, and public and expert knowledge are constructed, represented and mediated.

We will examine the role of the media in the communication of scientific and specialised knowledge and information. You will consider factors and pressures influencing the media agenda and the communication of invariably controversial knowledge and issues, as well as the extent to which different media formats and genres impact on the communication and inflection of sensitive, complex, and/or controversial information. We will also examine the contribution of the mass media to public 'scares', to the construction of social problems, and to public understanding of health, medicine, science, nature and the environment.

Topics covered

  • Key themes in science, environment and risk communication.
  • Media and the construction of knowledge: certainty/uncertainty and ‘authorised knowers’.
  • The Frankenstein legacy: film and media representations of science and scientists.
  • Managing controversy: news, specialist reporters and their sources.
  • Constructing social problems: risk and the environment.
  • Pressure for change: pressure group roles and source influence.
  • Scary technology: atoms and nuclear technology in popular culture.
  • Naturally good? changing articulations of nature in advertising and film.
  • Constructing public health scares.
  • Franken-foods, mutations and the new genetics.

Learning

  • Ten two-hour lecture/seminar sessions

Assessment

  • Presentation (20%)
  • Essay, 3,000 words (40%)
  • Exam (40%)