Depiction of Science by the Media
Depiction of Science by the Media
The advancements that have been achieved so far from previous centuries to the 21st century in various fields including medicine, technology, engineering, physics and chemistry among others are attributed to science and research in these fields done by scientists. These advancements are a result of the hard work ploughed in by scientists to make inventions and come up with solutions to various puzzles in these fields. The media is a very popular means through which people obtain information in this century. This is because of the wide availability and utilization of the various forms of media. The media therefore turns out to be very influential to individuals of various age groups and of different walks of life. These individuals obtain information from various media including newspapers, magazines, books, television shows, movies and films and through the internet in websites and social media platforms. The perception of science and its research and technology by these individuals is greatly influenced by how it has been depicted in the media which they have access to. (Nelkin, 1995)
At the mention of the word ‘scientist’, the mental picture I get is that of an elderly gentleman in a white coat and large, round reading glasses, poorly kempt and very busy trying to discern the meaning of various natural phenomena or a solution to a problem in a particular field. This individual has also made several important discoveries and stated theories considered very important in their field. Also, this individual is in a laboratory full of several strange apparatus and equipment, several solutions of different colors and books with very complex formulas which are supposed to be meaningful to the scientist, and relevant to their quest. The famous people that come to mind at the mention of the word ‘scientist’ include Albert Einstein who was a German physicist, Gregor Mendel who is the father of modern genetics and Isaac Newton who was an English Physicist and mathematician. These three have various characteristics in common. They all are scientists their respective fields, they all did some studies and came up with various discoveries and came up with various theories which have been applied in their relevant fields to achieve the advancements witnessed in this 21st century. Also, these three scientists have won various prizes in recognition of their great work and their great contributions to the fund of knowledge in their respective fields. My vision of a scientist is stereotypical and is greatly influenced by the information about scientists displayed especially in books and films. It has also been influenced by pictures of scientists which I have seen online in websites and on social media.
Over time, the image I have of what a scientist does and how they look has changed. I now know that a scientist can be youthful, middle-aged or elderly. They can also be of either gender and can work outside a laboratory as they do their research. Also, I have found out that the work of scientists can make either a positive or a negative contribution to the society. This image of a scientist has changed due to exposure to more information especially through interaction with students taking science courses and finding out that they also do some of their course work in a laboratory and they also use various equipment. Reading books, magazines and journals on science, and watching movies, films and documentaries featuring scientists has also greatly influenced and changed my initial perception of a scientist. (Hirsch, 1958)
The depiction of scientists in various forms of media varies greatly depending on the message which the author or the creator of the work of art intends to pass to their audience. The fictional scientist may be depicted as the hero or the villain depending on the plot of the story. Most works of art, especially movies, depict scientists as villains. Very few works depict scientists as heroes and this greatly influences the society’s perception of scientists and their works. (Hirsch, 1958) A good example is the science fiction film ‘Frankenstein’ based on a story written by Mary Shelley (1818) describes a Physician Victor Frankenstein who claims he can create life using body parts from different species and electric shock. Victor is so obsessed with his work that he neglects his responsibilities and his scientific work culminates in a disaster as he creates super beings which he could not control. The science fiction short story ‘Judgement Day’ by L.Sprague de Camp describes the work of a physicist known as Wade Ormont who, in the story discovers that he could build an atomic bomb which could blow off the crust of the earth and destroy all mankind. Ormont decides that he could just destroy the earth with the nuclear bomb as he recounts how bad the human race had been to him from a disturbed childhood despised by his peers and his house having recently been vandalized. (Snyder, 2004) One of the works of art that depicts scientists as heroes is the film ‘Terminator II: Judgement Day’ where scientist Miles Dyson created an artificial intelligent defense system called Skynet which escaped control but the scientist helps to destroy it upon realizing how evil it was.
Fictional media has played a big role in information dissemination and science and scientists are not left out in this. Television shows, films, books, magazines, journals and music have brought out science and scientists in various settings. The research and advancements brought about by science have been broadcasted through the media, and some of the fictional works have been based on these discoveries, mostly with a little exaggeration. Most of these media have portrayed science as a positive force in the world with a few of the works depicting the negative force of science. (Nelkin, 1995) In most fictional works, especially in films and books which have the greatest audience, science is portrayed as a positive force. It is depicted as a tool used by scientists and other parties to obtain solutions to complex problems including cures to extraordinary diseases and prevention of impending disaster. As depicted in the film based on the book ‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dasher, a group of scientists called ‘W.C.K.E.D’ carry out an experiment where a group of young boys are dropped periodically one after another in a glade where they are trapped and detached from the world as test subjects in an attempt to find a cure for a deadly virus called the ‘Flare’ which has wiped out most of the population on earth. Also, in the film ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids, scientist Wayne Szalinsky finds out that his children and their friends have accidentally shrunk themselves and launches a search to save them.
The portrayal of scientists in the media definitely influences the society’s perception of the people in this profession. This is because the media is the main channel through which people in the society obtain information. It is also the most popular source of entertainment in this century. The influence of mass media on an individual varies from one medium to another. Most active media like journals, books and magazines tend to publish more true information about science as compared to passive media like television and films. Science fiction in these media has greatly influenced the individuals in the society in terms of their cultural attitude towards science and scientists. Some people may dismiss or ignore science fiction while others, especially the young are captivated by the thrill of discovery and proceed to gain interest and venture into the field of science. Science fiction in the media has also affected young children in their perception of science and in making decisions on what to do during their leisure time. (Snyder, 2004)
The view of the general public on matters related to science and research in the scientific fields and in technology is highly dependent on the way science is portrayed in the media. This is because the media brings in the visual image of what the scientific research is about. Also, the media brings in the message in simple terms and language which the audience can relate to. This way, the opinion of the audience concerning the research or scientific work is largely based on the message the get from the media and the message of other individuals expressed by the media. Therefore, the media greatly affects the popularity of research and technology and how well they are embraced by the society. (Nelkin, 1995)
The media in its various forms including television shows, films, books, magazines and journals, is a very important tool in the dissemination of information regarding science. The image of scientists and what they do has changed greatly over the years. This image largely influenced by the media in terms of how it portrays science. The media also affects the perception of science and scientific work by the society, through dissemination of information and through display of fictional works based on the various fields in science. It is clearly evident that the field of science and the media should work hand in hand to ensure that the hard work of scientists is portrayed as it should and that members of the society get the true and intended message even through fictional works.
Hirsch W (1958) The Image of the Scientist in Science Fiction: A Content Analysis: American
Journal of Sociology, Volume 63 pages 506-512
Nelkin D (1995) Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology: WH
Snyder A.L (2004) The Portrayal of Scientists in Science Fiction. Strange Horizons