Science communication always involves questions of translation and persuasion, asking how accurately technical knowledge can be communicated to non-expert audiences, and with what effects. In the medical context, these questions often focus on how risks of disease and prescriptions for health can be communicated in order to persuade people to take up lifestyle advice and comply with treatment. Yet public health campaigns have a notoriously difficult time changing behaviour, and sociological studies have revealed complex interactions between media representations of medical research, the motivations of those who fund and conduct it, and the ways public audiences take up, resist, and shape media messages.
The course approaches medical science communication from this broader perspective, through a range of methodological lenses. Lectures will survey the diverse forms, motivations, and effects of public communication, consider political and ethical dimensions, and discuss the ways in which doctors, patients, and healthy bodies are defined and enacted in part through media persuasion and new online practices. We will also reflexively consider the challenges of communicating social science, media studies, and humanities research, both to public audiences and to researchers from other disciplines. In practical activities that draw on the lectures, students will examine media texts and film depictions, debate case studies, and discuss the role of communication in their own research projects and careers.
The course will explore communication of health and medicine from an interdisciplinary perspective, aiming to inform students’ individual projects whilst also drawing on recent research and fast-evolving debate about how to analyze, evaluate, and ‘do’ medical science in public. I’m delighted to be joined in this endeavor by guest lecturers Maja Horst, Head of Department of Media, Cognition, and Communication at KU, and Jenell Johnson, Faculty Associate in Communication Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The course is relevant to students from disciplines including sociology, anthropology, STS, and media, culture, and communication studies, whose research focuses on public health, biomedical research, medical technology or clinical practice. It is also relevant to students from medicine or public health with a strong interest in studying or contributing to public communication. External students are also welcome to apply.
If you have any questions or suggestions, or know of similar courses that might inspire, leave a comment below or get in touch with me on or @lewhiteley.