BSc Microbiology / Course details

Year of entry: 2019

Course unit details:
Science, the Media & the Public

Unit code HSTM20181
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? No


Science, the Media and the Public explores the communication of science, technology and medicine through the media. You will focus on how science is communicated -- through the written word, visually, and aurally. You will also evaluate the differences between science communicated through news media and entertainment media.


Science generates some of the most interesting and powerful ideas in existence. It shapes our lives, from the food we eat and the medicines we use to the possible effects of climate change and the possible consequences of genetic or materials research. Scientists increasingly have to be able to communicate their results not just to each other but to wide public audiences. Non-scientists need strategies for decoding and assessing what experts tell them about science. In both cases, what is needed is an understanding of the relationship between science and the public. The media occupy a central position in this relationship. But the media - press, broadcasters, digital platforms, publishers, the film industry, science museums, science centres - are themselves complex organisations with their own agendas. Why do they choose to make some science stories "news," and not others? What choices do reporters, editors and curators make about how to represent science in text and imagery? What impacts do these choices and representations have on readers, listeners and viewers? And how do the complex processes of science communication shape the public’s understanding of the content and values of science and their appreciation of its place in our culture?

Learning outcomes

Using case studies from a variety of media ­- newspapers, popular books, sound, film and TV -this course will explore key issues in public science from the points of view of scientists, the media and their audiences. It aims to help students understand the key issues in science communication today and to improve their awareness of issues in public science. It will also allow students to develop their own ideas and practical skills in the context of participatory and critical citizenship. Scientists will learn how to communicate their work more effectively. Non-scientists will learn new ways of thinking about science in the public sphere. All students will develop their writing, analytical and team-working skills in a cross-disciplinary context.


Lectures form a connected series of case studies of various aspects of science in society and culture. Classes will cover the following indicative themes:

•       Science in the press

•       Science in television news

•       The Hawking effect: popular science books and publishing

•       Science in museums and science centres (including a visit to a museum)

•       Science in television documentaries

•       Science in fiction and theatre

•       Science goes to Hollywood: science in cinema

•       Impacts of digital and social media on science communication

•       ‘Public understanding of science’ and science communication policy

Seminar Content

Lectures and seminars are integrated in a weekly 2-hour workshop-style class; lecture material is consolidated through group discussion and class activity.

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Lectures and seminars encourage students to think critically and analytically about the relationships between science and the media, and about their place in contemporary society.
Group/team working
Students will participate in group-work in class and between classes, and a major part of the assessment for the unit is a semester-long group project.
Writing assessments and the group project encourage students to think creatively and analytically and to innovate within the general framework of the unit topic.
Students are sometimes required to act as leaders or spokespersons for their group. These skills can be developed in a friendly, informal and supportive setting.
Project management
Student groups are required to self-manage their group projects using social media or other techniques. Past students have found this an excellent way to use and develop their skills in these areas.
Oral communication
Students will participate in informal class discussions and small group-work, allowing them to develop oral communication skills in a supportive and constructive context.
The assessments for this unit require some independent research, generally on topics chosen by the student. A major part of the assessment for the 20-credit version of the unit is an individual research project.
Written communication
Students will produce short and longer pieces of written work as part of the assessment for this unit, and receive formative written feedback.

Assessment methods

Coursework (50%); group project (50%) [HSTM20181 – 10 credits]

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged to engage in informal class discussions of science/media issues, and to bring relevant topical materials to class. Teaching staff will answer specific queries by email and during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and individual feedback explaining the mark awarded. General feedback will be given in class and on blackboard.

Recommended reading

•       Bucchi, M. (1998) Science and the Media. Routledge

•       Russell, N (2010) Communicating Science: Professional, Popular, Literary. Cambridge University Press

•       Gregory J. and Miller S. (2000) Science in Public. Communication, Culture and Credibility. Plenum.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 78

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jeffrey Hughes Unit coordinator

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