Accepted Paper:

Science as Religion? Representations of Science in British Science Television Programmes  


Will Mason-Wilkes (Cardiff University)

Paper short abstract:

Science television plays a role in shaping public understandings of, attitudes towards and engagement with science. Some BBC science programmes present science using the language and iconography of religion. The portrayal of science as religion perpetuates a misleading, asocial view of science.

Paper long abstract:

Television is one of the most ubiquitous, far-reaching and trusted mediums for the communication of science. Television science communication is, however, unidirectional, allowing for limited dialogue between communicator and audience. The way in which science is represented on television has important implications for public understanding of, attitudes towards and engagement with science.

Within the medium of television, science can be represented in various ways. I will focus on what I will call 'religious' and 'secular' portrayals of science on British television. I will identify these in two specialist factual science programmes first aired on the BBC in 2013.The religious portrayal of science presents science as providing a creation narrative, as being immutable, as easy to accomplish and as a source of meaning. The secular portrayal represents science as provisional, changeable, requiring skill to accomplish and providing both positive and negative impacts on society. These contrasting portrayals are not dependent on the particular scientific topic that is being presented, but are a consequence of the kind of language and iconography used to describe science, in concert with visual and audio elements.

I will focus on the religious portrayal of science and its problematic consequences. I will argue that it could engender understandings within audiences which compromise their ability to engage with science in a well-informed and constructive way.

Panel T032
Science Communication