Within the current television panorama, effective communication of scientific content seems a difficult task, as it must face both intrinsic difficulties related to science communication and those related to the medium. Audiovisual media impose a relevant limitation, since their storytelling techniques are notoriously different from scientific communication standards. Television narrative structures tend to be of a poetic and dramatic nature. Its main purpose is not to communicate intellectual, theoretical or technical knowledge in a detailed, logical way, as science does. Much on the contrary, television efforts are aimed at building discourses which can attract viewers´ attention, both through practical interest and emotional appeal. In other words, the balance between scientific accuracy and journalistic interest seems difficult to achieve.
     

This paper explores some of the key points to develop effective popularisation of science through the television documentary. From this particular perspective, we look into the work of British wildlife filmmaker David Attenborough, who is regarded as one of the greatest popularisers of our time. His main series are analysed as a case of study, in order to identify some relevant techniques, which help to approach biological knowledge to the viewers´ area of interest. The study of these communication resources would allow us to look into the specific nature of popularisation discourses on television, and reach some general conclusions about effective ways of communicating science.
     

We distinguish three different types of resources, which are labelled as narrative, dramatic and argumentation techniques. The first two categories aim to achieve expository interest, whereas the last one attempts to rationalise the discourse. Narrative techniques comprise several ways of simplification, ranging from establishing the story-line of the film to eliminating scientific controversies. Another important narrative resource is anthropomorphism, which is often criticised by scientists and filmmakers but can be a useful instrument if employed in a careful way. Among dramatic techniques, story building is a specially relevant device to hold viewers´ attention, as well as to create conflict and suspense. Finally, argumentation techniques are related to the credibility of the speaker, the viewers attitude to the program and some rhetoric figures used in the discourse itself.
 

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Scientific popularisation through television documentary
A study of the work of wildlife filmmaker david attenborough

Bienvenido Leon   University of Navarra

Within the current television panorama, effective communication of scientific content seems a difficult task, as it must face both intrinsic difficulties related to science communication and those related to the medium. Audiovisual media impose a relevant limitation, since their storytelling techniques are notoriously different from scientific communication standards. Television narrative structures tend to be of a poetic and dramatic nature. Its main purpose is not to communicate intellectual, theoretical or technical knowledge in a detailed, logical way, as science does. Much on the contrary, television efforts are aimed at building discourses which can attract viewers´ attention, both through practical interest and emotional appeal. In other words, the balance between scientific accuracy and journalistic interest seems difficult to achieve.
     

This paper explores some of the key points to develop effective popularisation of science through the television documentary. From this particular perspective, we look into the work of British wildlife filmmaker David Attenborough, who is regarded as one of the greatest popularisers of our time. His main series are analysed as a case of study, in order to identify some relevant techniques, which help to approach biological knowledge to the viewers´ area of interest. The study of these communication resources would allow us to look into the specific nature of popularisation discourses on television, and reach some general conclusions about effective ways of communicating science.
     

We distinguish three different types of resources, which are labelled as narrative, dramatic and argumentation techniques. The first two categories aim to achieve expository interest, whereas the last one attempts to rationalise the discourse. Narrative techniques comprise several ways of simplification, ranging from establishing the story-line of the film to eliminating scientific controversies. Another important narrative resource is anthropomorphism, which is often criticised by scientists and filmmakers but can be a useful instrument if employed in a careful way. Among dramatic techniques, story building is a specially relevant device to hold viewers´ attention, as well as to create conflict and suspense. Finally, argumentation techniques are related to the credibility of the speaker, the viewers attitude to the program and some rhetoric figures used in the discourse itself.
 

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