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Certainty and the public understanding of science: Science on television1

Collins, Harold Maurice ORCID: 1987. Certainty and the public understanding of science: Science on television1. Social Studies of Science 17 (4) , pp. 689-713. 10.1177/030631287017004005

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The notion of `the public understanding of science' is ambiguous. It is not the findings of science that are crucial, but the public understanding of science as a knowledge-producing activity. Two television broadcasts on science are described and analyzed. Features typical of science broadcasting, with their implicit epistemological messages, are discussed. The public understanding of science is affected by the way such programmes portray science as a producer of certainty. The first programme deals with a controversy in an area of low status. While this allows an uncertain face of science to be glimpsed, it is with us only for a narrow slot in time — the present. We are shown only a small `window of uncertainty' set within walls of certainty that extend into the past and the future. The second programme confirms this analysis. The first programme puts us in a position to follow the window of uncertainty in real time. An experiment discussed in the programme — the carbon-dating test on the Shroud of Turin — is about to happen. It is predicted that the carbon-dating test will move into the `window of uncertainty' as we approach it.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Q Science > Q Science (General)
Publisher: SAGE Publications
ISSN: 0306-3127
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2022 09:53

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