Science and Entertainment Media

In 1980 Luis Alvarez and his son Walter Alvarez and two other scientists from the University of California - Berkeley proposed that a large asteroid struck the earth 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. For many years the scientific community scoffed at the Alvarez impact hypothesis as "outlandish." By the end of the 1990s, however, dinosaur killing Near-Earth-Objects (NEOs) permeated our entertainment media. Dozens of popular books dealing with the dangers of NEOs were published in the late 1990s including Walter Alvarez's highly popular dinosaur extinction book T. Rex and the Crater of Doom. In 1998 two major Hollywood films about NEOs Deep Impact and Armageddon were released. Each film opens with an NEO hitting the Earth 65 million years ago. In addition, the multitude of TV programmes on NEOs in the late 1990s, such as the fictional Asteroid (1997) and the science documentary Fire From the Sky (1998), also featured the asteroid impact hypothesis as the cause of the dinosaurs' extinction.

This episode clearly indicates the power that entertainment media have in regards to our understandings of science and technology. Many of our perceptions of the natural world originate from entertainment media sources, such as science fiction novels, popular science magazines, nature documentaries, TV shows, fictional films, and comic books. In addition, science communication through entertainment media can play a role within the scientific community especially in cases that are interdisciplinary in nature. Our course "Science and Entertainment Media" explores the structure, meanings, and implications of science communication through entertainment media by reading scholarly research and critically analysing media texts. In this course we will investigate the motivations of and constraints on people involved in producing entertainment media, including scientists and engineers, while analyzing the functions of public communication of science and technology. We will also try to link knowledge about entertainment media to research in communication more broadly, in order to develop new knowledge about science communication. During the semester, we will explore the theme of science and entertainment media across different media formats, historical periods, and cultural contexts. We will focus particularly on the differences between science communicated through the written word, visually, and aurally, and the differences between science communicated through non-fictional and fictional entertainment. To broaden our understandings of science and entertainment media we will construct our own piece of entertainment about science and technology.