In the autumn term students take two core academic modules and the core practical. Each module lasts for the full term.

Science and its social contexts

In this module we study some of the contemporary debates surrounding science and its place in the world. By examining historical and recent work in the humanities and the social sciences, you will learn to question common-sense assumptions about science and its social contexts. The module divides into two parts. In the first part, we scrutinise work by historians, philosophers and sociologists who have written about the nature of science and its relation to other disciplines and the broader culture. In the second half of the module these themes are explored further as we consider how scientific expertise in the public domain becomes controversial and contested, as seen in the issues of mad cow disease, immunisation and GM crops. In this part of the module we will also look at the way ‘the public understanding of science’ movement has evolved into ideas about ‘public engagement’. The module ends by considering how this change intersects with the ambitions and claims of ‘Web 2.0’ in the communication of expertise in post-modern society.

The media representation of science

This module draws on work in cultural and media studies and the sociology of the media to look at how media texts are constructed. We begin by considering key features of the media coverage of science and the journalistic norms and practices which lead to this coverage. We then introduce analytical concepts from the fields of semiotics and rhetoric in order to consider how texts and images in the mass media generate meaning and how different audiences read texts. Key ideas here are those of signification, ideology, myth, and metaphor. We conclude by drawing out some overarching themes concerning journalistic responsibility, the influence of vested interests in the reporting of science, and the social structures in which media science is embedded.

Core practical

Much of this introduction to the practice of communication is devoted to broadcast—specifically television. Students experiment with communicating science through various genres. In a series of practical exercises, students develop technical skills in directing, vision mixing and camera operating and they reflect on the use of television as a medium for communicating science. The exercises include adapting the BBC’s Question Time programme to the genre of the scientific studio discussion and experimenting with other televisual forms such as the game show, sketch show and pastiche.

Note: The modules listed here are those offered in the current academic year. The programme is substantially the same from year to year but there may be some changes.