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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Introduction to science communication

HSTM60561 (15 credits)

Semester One

Classes: three hours per week

Contact: Dr David Kirby


The unit aims to

  • introduce students to key ideas and findings in science communication studies
  • introduce students to the range of disciplinary approaches available for studying science communication
  • establish an understanding of the relationship between theory and practice in science communication studies
  • enable students to understand and analyse critically the key literature in the field
  • acquaint students with the range, scope and functions of science communication, now and in the fast
  • develop a sense of the political and economic context for science communication.


On completion of this unit, successful students will be able to

  • recognise the range of topics and approaches in science communication studies
  • understand the important models, theories and perspectives
  • have a sense of the emergence and social context of the field
  • critically and comparatively appraise source texts
  • identify and analyse critically a variety of different methodological approaches to research and argument
  • select and apply appropriate approaches, methods and theories to particular research questions
  • understand the significance and potential of relevant disciplinary approaches
  • identify a range of practices in science communication
  • be able to locate and identify science communication learning materials in a range of repositories and media
  • be able to locate and participate in science communication in the real world
  • engage constructively in knowledge-sharing and collective judgement with their classmates
  • gain a sense of their own interests and potential in the field.


This assessed unit serves to introduce science communication studies at the start of the year. It has three main purposes: firstly, it serves as a general introduction to the subject for an MSc student who sees its relevance to their course of study. For students on the MSc in Science Communication, it serves two further purposes: to establish some common ground among students who will have come from differing educational backgrounds which may or may not have included science communication study; and to set out and differentiate the topics from which the students may choose in semester 2.

Topics are likely to include:

  • what is science communication for, and why is it important in our society now?
  • defining science in the public sphere
  • contemporary issues in science communication
  • introduction to science in museums
  • introduction to science journalism and broadcasting
  • activism and political engagement about science
  • public attitudes and social representations
  • social and communication theory
  • policy, commodification and capital


  • One essay reviewing the literature on a particular framework, model or ideology, 1500 to 2000 words: 50%
  • One essay reviewing the literature on a particular medium or genre oral presentation on a potential research theme, 1500 to 2000 words: 50%


A comprehensive reading list is distributed at the beginning of the course. Useful introductory reading includes:

  • P. Bowler (2009), Science for All: the Popularization of Science in Early Twentieth-Century Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
  • J. Gregory and S. Miller (2000) Science in Public: Communication, Culture and Credibility (London: Plenum Trade).
  • B. Trench and M. Bucchi (2008, eds.), Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology (New York: Routledge).
  • Irwin and B. Wynne, eds. (1996) Misunderstanding Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Gross, et al. (2002) Communicating Science: The Scientific Article from the 17th Century to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Bell, S. Davies & F. Mellor (2008) Science and its Publics (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press).
  • P. Broks (2006) Understanding Popular Science (Maidenhead: Open University Press).
  • T. Shinn and R. Whitley, eds. (1985) Expository Science (Dordecht: D. Reidel).
  • S. Hilgartner (1990) The dominant view of popularization, Social Studies of Science, 20(3): 519-39.
  • Wagner (2008) The New Invisible College: Science for Development (Brookings Institute Press).
  • M. Castells (1996) The Rise of the Network Society (New York: Wiley-Blackwell).
  • Public Understanding of Science (2014), Special issue: Public engagement in science, 23(1)
  • R. Holliman, et al. (2009) Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press.).
  • R. Holliman, et al. (2009) Practising Science Communication in the Information Age: Theorising Professional Practices (Oxford: Oxford University Press.).
  • S. Epstein (1998) Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge (Berkley, CA: University of California Press).
  • S. Allan (2002) Media, Risk and Science (New York: McGraw Hill).
  • Hansen (1993) The Mass Media and Environmental Issues (Leicester University Press).
  • D.A. Kirby (2011) Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).
  • J. Turney (1998) Frankenstein’s Footsteps: Science, Genetics and Popular Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press)
  • M. Bauer & M. Bucchi (2007) Journalism, Science and Society: Science Communication between News and Public Relations (London: Routledge).
  • J. Turow (2010) Playing Doctor: Television, Media, and Medical Power (University of Michigan Press).


The seminar discussion format of the course gives all students regular opportunities to discuss their ideas with teaching staff. Staff are also available to discuss essay proposals, seminar performance, and general course performance by appointment, on a one-to-one basis. All coursework is double-marked, and essay scripts are returned to the students with both sets of markers’ comments.


The unit will be led with Jane Gregory, with contributions from guest speakers.

View a recent course outline (pdf)