Science and the Media: Alternative Routes in Scientific Communication

By Massimiano Bucchi | Go to book overview

2

WHEN SCIENTISTS TURN TO THE PUBLIC
So far, I have tried to outline two main points:
1 That certain communicative situations (‘deviations’ in Cloître and Shinn terminology) can be accounted for neither within the canonical model nor within the continuity model of public communication of science.
2 That it is in these situations that the contribution of the public discourse to scientific communication can become most evident and therefore amenable to investigation.

I shall now try to build an explanatory hypothesis on this rather descriptive dimension by addressing the problem of the conditions under which scientists might be stimulated and/or allowed to deviate their normal expository practice towards the public level.

Deviation to the public seems related to peculiar crisis situations which cannot be managed within the scientific community. These situations may often involve the definition and negotiation of scientific boundaries. The concept of ‘boundary work’ 1 is applied here in a very general sense to encompass three broad types of demarcation strategies. It refers in the first place to the boundaries between science and non-science. Boundaries can be restricted to exclude competing professional practices (as in the case of the Scottish anatomists against the phrenologists described by Gieryn), 2 or in turn they can be made more flexible in order to incorporate such practices within the dominant framework (as in the case of acupuncture which has been studied by Webster). 3 Such boundary definitions are not only defensive. For instance, public speeches and popular writings by Tyndall in late nineteenth-century England can be easily interpreted as efforts to extend the boundaries of science to the detriment of religious tradition and engineering practice. 4

However, public support is particularly necessary when what is at stake is not just the negotiation (however massive) of the boundaries but rather their very constitution. As long as a discipline has not yet been recognized as such (and therefore until it is granted authority and prestige), it is

-15-

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Science and the Media: Alternative Routes in Scientific Communication
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Preface x
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - When Scientists Turn to the Public 15
  • 3 - Case Studies 33
  • 4 - Lines and Tensions 123
  • Notes 148
  • References 176
  • Index 191
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