Not available in 2020/21
PB429      Half Unit
Science Communication and Controversies

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Martin Bauer QUE.3.04


This course is available on the MSc in Behavioural Science, MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology, MSc in Psychology of Economic Life, MSc in Social and Cultural Psychology and MSc in Social and Public Communication. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Consider vaccinations, climate change, nuclear energy, CRISPR or genetically-modified crops and food. Regarding these developments, science is a cultural authority and a voice of reason, but increasingly also a protagonist. No surprise therefore that science is discussed controversially, battling with ‘fake news’. In this course we will look at these and other issues and ask the question more generally: what is the role of public controversy, science communication, and public opinion for the development of science and technology? The classical diffusion model (Roger, 1962) remains influential: scientists discover, engineers innovate, and social scientists market the novelty and provide public acceptance. This model is however more wishful thinking than realistic; valid at most when there is no or little public controversy. More commonly, techno-scientific innovations encounter resistance which refocuses attention, strengthens the collective, evaluates on-going developments and urges strategic adaptation (Bauer, 1991, 1995, 2002, 2015, 2017). In light of this, we will examine science communication and its formats of public engagement in relation to the historical controversies over nuclear power, genetic engineering and IT leading into emergent mobilisations for nanotechnology, genetic enhancement, synthetic biology, AI, autonomous driving and robotic automation.

Students' are expected to appreciate theory driven empirical research.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

Baranger P and B Schiele (2013) Science Communication today – international perspectives, issues and strategies, Nancy Journee Hubert-Curien, CNRS Editions.

Bauer MW, P Pansegrau, and R Shukla (2019) (eds) The Cultural Authority of Science – comparing across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, , London, Routledge.

Bauer, M.W. (2015). Atoms, Bytes & Genes: public resistance and techno-scientific responses. New York: Routledge. Bauer, M.W. (2013).

Bauer MW and M Bucchi (2007) (eds) Journalism, Science and Society – science communication between news and public relations, NY, Routledge.

Bauer, M.W. & Gaskell, G. (Eds) (2002). Biotechnology - the making of a global controversy. Cambridge, CUP.

Bucchi M and B Trench (2014) (eds) Routledge Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology, 2nd edition, London, Routledge.

Godin B and D Vinck (2017) (eds) Critical Studies of Innovation. Alternative approaches to the pro-innovation bias, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar.

Gregory J and S Miller (1998) Science in Public – communication, culture, and credibility, Cambridge MA, Perseus.

Marteau, T. & Richards, M.P.M. (1996) (Eds), The troubled helix: Social and psychological implications of the new human genetics, CUP.

Roger, E.M. (1996). Diffusion of innovation, 4th edition. New York: Free Press.

Weart, S.R. (1988). Nuclear fear: A history of images, Harvard University Press.

Each session will have its own particular readings, divided into essential texts and additional readings. This will be revised on an annual basis. No one text covers the entire syllabus; students' will be expected to read widely in appropriate journals, and a list of references will be provided at the start of the course.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2019/20: 5

Average class size 2019/20: 5

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information