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Questioning the sci‐fi alibi: A critique of how ‘science fiction fears’ are used to explain away public concerns about risk

Kitzinger, Jenny ORCID: 2010. Questioning the sci‐fi alibi: A critique of how ‘science fiction fears’ are used to explain away public concerns about risk. Journal of Risk Research 13 (1) , pp. 73-86. 10.1080/13669870903136068

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Most of articles in this Special Issue have focused on news reporting about risk. However, fiction is another important form of media through which risks are represented. Indeed, fictionalised dramatisations are often a key focus of concern for scientists and policy‐makers. This article draws on interviews with scientists and policy‐makers, and analysis of official documents and media reports, to examine how ‘science fiction‐induced fears’ are blamed for encouraging public resistance to emerging science and technology. It then goes on to examine how such allegations are supported: reviewing research exploring the impact of fiction, and highlighting the lack of a strong evidence‐base for many assertions about fiction’s negative effects. Blaming fiction for people’s concern about risk is, I argue, a highly problematic discourse in policy‐making and public debate. The ‘sci‐fi alibi’ often serves to dismiss public concerns as groundless, irrational and emotional, and to reinforce the assumption that only scientists have a correct, ‘factual’ and ‘progressive’ vision of the future. Deploying such rhetoric is profoundly unhelpful to efforts to develop more democratic risk debates and better relations between science, citizens and the State.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Uncontrolled Keywords: fiction, drama, future, stem cell research, nanotechnology, GM
Additional Information: Special issue of journal entitled 'Media and Risk'
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 1366-9877
Funders: ESRC
Last Modified: 18 Oct 2022 12:59

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