In The Visible Scientists (1977), Rae Goodall examined how a group of scientists, including astronomer Carl Sagan and anthropologist Margaret Mead, came to cultural prominence in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. These researchers, Goodall argued, used new communications media to advocate directly to lay audiences on science-policy issues, appealing to journalists because they had several “media- orientated” characteristics. They had a “hot” research topic, were controversial and articulate, had a “colorful” image and had established a credible reputation within science, yet were criticized for having too much media exposure and public credibility. This paper builds on Goodalls concept of the visible scientist by outlining a three-part conceptual framework for analyzing scientists as celebrities and public intellectuals, a framework that captures much of the best analysis from scholarship that has not otherwise been connected. Part one includes definitions and concepts drawn from celebrity studies, including the view that inside an intensified celebrity culture, ideas have been increasingly refracted though mediated personalities. Part two centers on approaches from intellectual history, particularly studies of the public intellectual, a specialist who communicates to various non-specialist audiences. Part three features the cultural functions of science popularization and notions of the “public scientist”, who speaks in public on behalf of, often in defense of, scientific values.

This framework identifies several core characteristics of publicly prominent scientists: they are represented as stars whose public and private lives have merged in their portrayals; they are tradable cultural commodities; they are represented as the embodiment of various aspects of science and are constructed around discourses of truth; they are public emissaries of the cultural authority of science; they are portrayed as figures whose public status is greater than their scientific status; and they have established their cultural authority outside the formal channels of communication. In an environment where the medialization of science has become an emerging area of research interest, this framework is proposed as a means of structuring future analysis of scientists in public.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Science and celebrity studies
A framework for analyzing scientists in public

Declan Fahy   American University

In The Visible Scientists (1977), Rae Goodall examined how a group of scientists, including astronomer Carl Sagan and anthropologist Margaret Mead, came to cultural prominence in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. These researchers, Goodall argued, used new communications media to advocate directly to lay audiences on science-policy issues, appealing to journalists because they had several “media- orientated” characteristics. They had a “hot” research topic, were controversial and articulate, had a “colorful” image and had established a credible reputation within science, yet were criticized for having too much media exposure and public credibility. This paper builds on Goodalls concept of the visible scientist by outlining a three-part conceptual framework for analyzing scientists as celebrities and public intellectuals, a framework that captures much of the best analysis from scholarship that has not otherwise been connected. Part one includes definitions and concepts drawn from celebrity studies, including the view that inside an intensified celebrity culture, ideas have been increasingly refracted though mediated personalities. Part two centers on approaches from intellectual history, particularly studies of the public intellectual, a specialist who communicates to various non-specialist audiences. Part three features the cultural functions of science popularization and notions of the “public scientist”, who speaks in public on behalf of, often in defense of, scientific values.

This framework identifies several core characteristics of publicly prominent scientists: they are represented as stars whose public and private lives have merged in their portrayals; they are tradable cultural commodities; they are represented as the embodiment of various aspects of science and are constructed around discourses of truth; they are public emissaries of the cultural authority of science; they are portrayed as figures whose public status is greater than their scientific status; and they have established their cultural authority outside the formal channels of communication. In an environment where the medialization of science has become an emerging area of research interest, this framework is proposed as a means of structuring future analysis of scientists in public.

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