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Humanity lives in a time of rapid technological progress. People are surrounding themselves with modern gadgets, which were invented to make life easier; scientific discoveries are unbelievable. Science and technology play a key role in people’s lives nowadays. More and more people tend to be interested in science due to the availability of information. Science has integrated into popular culture through cinema, music, literature, and television. This paper is aimed at investigating the essence of science in popular culture and its influence on contemporary society.
The Image of a Scientist
Firstly, to understand the essence of science, it is important to describe a scientist. A lot of people associate scientists with someone who wears a lab coat and welding glasses. Scientists are considered to be very smart, brainy, and intelligent. What is more, scientists often behave and look like they are not of this world. Probably, the most popular scientist is Albert Einstein. However, Einstein lived in the last century, so he cannot be taken for the example of a modern scientist. Stephen Hawking is one of the most influential scientists who are still alive. He is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Hawking can be named a popularizer of physics. Stephen Hawking’s book called A Brief History of Time (1998) is an example of an excellent bestseller. At first glance, it seems that a physics book cannot be a bestseller. What is the secret of success? There is only one mathematical formula in the book. Hawking’s publisher understood this secret and advised the scientist to concentrate more on theoretical explanations rather than on practical issues.
Although Einstein and Hawking have different attitudes towards science, they have some common characteristics. Many people would agree that the most important and necessary feature of all scientists is curiosity. Scientists have to be curious about everything. Curiosity is a key characteristic because it is the foundation of motivation for doing research. Besides, attentive observation is vital. Every measurement and observation should be done carefully because all the consequent theories and hypotheses directly depend on them. Apart from this, a true scientist ought to be creative and open-minded. Simonton (2013) emphasizes that “the creative scientist contributes ideas that are original and useful” (p. 602). Scientists do not have to just follow instructions and do some basic research; their minds have to be open to new, sometimes crazy ideas.
It cannot be denied that the image of what scientists do and how they look is different today. The world is constantly changing. The same holds for science and scientists. Due to the availability of information, people are more aware of science nowadays than they used to be 50 years ago. There was a popular belief that scientists were boring in the past. Whereas, the adjective ‘creative’ is one of the most appropriate words to describe a scientist today. It is worth mentioning that the science popularization is gathering momentum with years. More people are involved in science one way or another. For instance, a lot of people are fans of the American television sitcom The Big Bang Theory (2007) that shows the lives of two brilliant physicists Leonard and Sheldon. To some extent, the comedy reveals the truth about scientists and contributes to the science popularization. It can be said that this sitcom that attracts a large number of fans all across the globe influences people’s ideas about scientists.
According to Van Gorp, Rommes, and Emons (2014), all fictional scientists can be divided into seven groups: the genius, the nerds, the puzzlers, the adventurers, the mad scientists, the wizards, and the misunderstood genius. Fiction scientists were blamed for a lot of fictional disasters in the past. For instance, they were responsible for creating zombies and cloning dinosaurs. However, the situation has changed. Today, scientists are shown in a positive light. They are often considered to be heroes. Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory (2007) are the typical examples of good fictional scientists. According to Gorp et al. (2014) classification, Leonard and Sheldon can be named nerds. At first sight, it can be concluded that Leonard and Sheldon do not have enough social skills, and their social behavior differs from the norms. However, they are not villains. On the contrary, Leonard and Sheldon are funny, and the viewer likes them.
Another example of a good scientist is Eleanor Arroway from the movie Contact (1997). Firstly, Arroway is portrayed as a loser. All her colleagues laugh at her because of her views. However, Arroway achieves success discovering the first signal from an alien civilization. Gorp et al. (2014) would describe Eleanor Arroway as a misunderstood genius by their classification.
Science in Media
It can be said that science has integrated into everyday life. There are a lot of television shows, movies, documentaries, books about science, and even television channels that are completely focused on science. Peters (2013) underlines that “the new media such as blogs and social networks open up new opportunities for science communication, and the gap between internal scientific communication and public science communication would be narrowed” (p. 14108). What is more important, science is portrayed as a positive force in the world. The brightest example of science TV series is Through the Wormhole (2010) hosted by Morgan Freeman. The TV series is concentrated on the most exciting mysteries of modern science. Through the Wormhole (2010) is produced by an American global mass media company called Discovery. Also, the company produces Discovery Channel, a cable and satellite channel that is another example of how science is portrayed in mass media. Discovery Channel is focused on popular science. There is a lot of TV series, shows, and documentaries produced by this channel. The channel is aimed at providing interesting and relevant information about the world.
The Influence of Mass Media
Due to a range of different science movies, shows, and books, people are more aware of who a scientist is and what he or she does. Mass media has a significant impact on people. As it is mentioned above, people’s attitude to science is changing with years. The portrayal of scientists is changing too. Modern scientists tend to be more attractive than their predecessors. Mass media greatly contributes to the formation of such an image of scientists, and people are affected by it.
As well as the image of scientists in media, the portrayal of science influence people too. Mass media impact how certain research and technology are viewed and accepted by the general public. Humanity lives in the 21st century that is considered to the century of information. Nowadays, information is the most necessary and important resource. TV and radio channels, newspapers, magazines, and Internet sources are responsible for providing this information. Mass media thoroughly investigates the average viewer, his or her preferences, and habits to provide appropriate information. Apart from this, such a controversial issue as propaganda can be noticed in mass media. It is necessary to understand that mass media is a sort of power tools because it can be used to manipulate the public. Mass media influences people, and it is very easy to make almost everyone think and act by the established norms and rules. Presented information influences the attitude of the audience toward some questions or issues. Thus, any event, problem, or scientific discovery or research can be presented in different ways to create the chosen result in audience attitudes. For instance, if TV channels start insisting that cloning is a necessary thing for a society to progress, the general public will accept this idea soon or later. The information provided by mass media is to be relevant and reliable. Otherwise, the long-term impacts of such a depiction can be serious, and people will have misconceptions about the world.
To sum up, science plays an important role in contemporary life. Science has integrated into popular culture through cinema, music, literature, and television and has become an integral part of everyday life. People’s attitude towards science and scientists has changed. Nowadays, people tend to be more aware of scientific discoveries and science in general. Moreover, scientists do not seem boring people who are far removed from reality anymore. On the contrary, they are considered to be very creative. The popularization of science is taking place all across the globe, and literature, cinema, and mass media contribute to it. The influence of mass media is probably the most significant.
Lorre, L. (Writer), & Cendrowski, M. (Director). (2007). The Big Bang Theory [Television series]. In B. Prady (Producer). Burbank, CA: Warner. Bros.
Lund, A. (Writer), & Sayenga, K. (Director). (2010). Through the Wormhole [Television series]. In B. McDaid (Producer). Ventura, CA: Discovery Communications.
Hawking, S. (1998). A brief history of time. Atlanta, GA: Bantam.
Peters, H. P. (2013). Gap between science and media revisited: Scientists as public communicators. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(3), 14102-14109.
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Simonton, D. K. (2013). After Einstein: Scientific genius is extinct. Nature, 493(7434), 602-602.
Starkey, S. (Producer), & Zemeckis, R. (Director). (1997). Contact [Motion picture]. The United States of America: Warner Bros.
Van Gorp, B., Rommes, E., & Emons, P. (2014). From the wizard to the doubter: Prototypes of scientists and engineers in fiction and non-fiction media aimed at Dutch children and teenagers. Public Understanding of Science, 23(6), 646-659.