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Humour in Science Communication

Hauke Riesch  

We've been laughing at scientists for centuries, from the pompous physicians of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid to Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor - a clumsy, socially awkward, cartoonishly bucktoothed and bespectacled nerd that helped create a lasting stereotype. But recently laughing *with* science has become a useful, and expanding, communication tool across many formats - from stand-up comedy (Bright Club, Brian Malow) and broadcasting (The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Big Bang Theory, Bill Nye), to popular science writing (But Seriously…, Brain Flapping) and online social media (ASAPScience), and even the odd reference in scholarly literature. The panel will discuss the merits of adding humour to science communication: a) it has the effect of humanising the scientist and the scientific process; b) humour is universal and brings people together; c) we feel smart when we feel like we're in on the joke (one of the barriers to effective engagement with science is that scientific terms can make non-scientists feel stupid). The panel will also reflect on and critique ongoing examples of humour in science communication with reference to much longer and broader trends. Bright Club or the Infinite Monkey Cage might attract an audience with a pre-existing interest in and/or understanding of science but the Big Bang Theory exposes an image of science and academic research to a much broader audience. Does this have the potential to educate, attract children to STEM subjects, or perhaps solidify existing stereotypes? The discussion will provide examples from hands-on projects and research, drawn together in a response and discussion. Proposed contributors: Matteo Merzagora on the "Science: une histoire d'humour" exhibition, Bruno Pinto, David Marçal, and/or Sophia Vaz, on the "Stand-Up Scientists" project (TBC, funding pending) Oliver Marsh on humour in science-based social media, Rebekah Higgitt on the history of science, humour, and satire, Joan Leach (respondent)

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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