847   Linked papers

Science never speaks for itself: Transforming perspectives on the communication of science, belief and society

Science never speaks for itself, rather its communication is undergirded by sets of often-unspoken beliefs. This multidisciplinary session draws upon sociological, psychological, historical and media studies approaches to interrogate issues in the communication of the relations between science, belief and society. The issues discussed in this session include the singular focus on creationists in press discourse around attitudes to evolution, the effects of Richard Dawkins' anti-religious statements on religiosity and science identification, the changing institutional forces shaping the versions of science which have appeared on the BBC, and how imagined audiences shape both ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ representations of science on British television. The thematic link between these papers is that science never ‘speaks for itself’. Institutions and individuals’ beliefs shape the versions of science communicated to the public, and thus also frame how that version of science can and does relate to society. Accordingly, the papers in this session focus on both the changing institutional forces that shape the versions of science and science-society relations communicated to publics, as well as the effects of ideologically-framed messages on individuals’ identification with science.

Following the presentation of the linked papers, chair Professor Fern-Elsdon Baker will lead a discussion linking the themes of the papers, placing the arguments in a broader international context of issues relating to science, belief, and society.

Author: James Riley
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Exposure to public anti-religious statements results in lower identification with science, but not reduced religiosity among religious individuals

Speaker: Carissa Sharp
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

Co-Authors: Dr Carissa Sharp, University of Birmingham (C.Sharp@bham.ac.uk) Dr Carola Leicht, University of Kent (A.C.Leicht-23@kent.ac.uk) Atheist public figure and scientist, Richard Dawkins, has been a major public figure in the communication of science for decades. We investigated how people with different religious identities are affected by anti-religious arguments expressed by Dawkins. Specifically, we examined whether confrontational anti-religious statements reduce religious beliefs and result in negative attitudes towards science. In Experiment 1, religious individuals did not report less religiosity after being exposed to such statements. In Experiment 2, we found that religious people identified less with science after being presented with a confrontational passage as compared to a non-confrontational one. In turn, atheists were less able to reconcile evolutionary science with their personal beliefs when exposed to a less confrontational statement as opposed to no statement at all. Only participants who identified as non-religious but not atheist reported believing less in God or higher power. Our studies show that hostile anti-religious statements do not convince religious people to become less religious. However, such passages discourage religious people from identifying and possibly engaging with science in general.

Who gets to speak for science? Contestations over science broadcasting at the BBC

Speaker: Alexander Hall
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

In 1949 the newest member of the BBC General Advisory Council, the physicist Mark Oliphant lamented, “I would like to see some break-away from the perpetual theme of ‘science and society’, with the inevitable excursions of the scientist into fields of politics where he does not shine, towards an attempt to present science as natural philosophy.” Oliphant’s complaint led to a review of the content of science broadcasting at the BBC, and the appointment of the former President of the Royal Society Sir Henry Dale, in a short-lived role as BBC Science Adviser from 1950-52. This episode was just one in a series of post-war contestations between the BBC, senior British scientists, and organisations such as the Royal Society and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, on who should control the content and approach to science broadcasting in the UK. Since the 1930s, alongside more pedagogical educational content, the BBC had developed a style of radio broadcasts, which discussed science and society. Focused on the application of cutting-edge science, and associated controversies, many felt that this approach overshadowed the more pressing need for broadcasting to educate and improve the general populace’s science literacy. After outlining the various episodes that contested the boundary and autonomy of science broadcasts in the period, the paper will finish with the launch in 1964 of the long running science show Horizon, which cemented the science and society approach at the heart of the BBC’s burgeoning television output. In reflecting on these contestations, the paper explores the emergence of professionalised science communicators working in broadcasting, and asks whether any legacy can be found in the structure, format and style of science broadcasting today.

Speaker: Stephen Jones
University of Birmingham, United Kingdom

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