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Television wildlife programming as a source of popular scientific information: a case study of evolution

[journal article]

Dingwall, Robert; Aldridge, Meryl

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Abstract The wildlife television documentary is an important but problematic genre, located between education and entertainment. Noting that the genre has characteristics that may increase its impact on the audience, this paper reviews its potential significance for science communication through a case study of the presentation of issues relating to evolution. First, the continuing popular and political support for creationism is examined, and then the new movement in support of Intelligent Design Creationism outlined. Based on an extensive sample of internationally produced programs, the research findings discussed in the paper focus on two dominant sub-genres: “blue chip” and “presenter-led.” While the former has higher production values and asserts greater authority, the pressures for a strong narrative discourage explorations of the contingency and amorality of evolution. The outcome is, typically, a text that does not challenge creationist accounts and may even implicitly endorse them. Paradoxically, we argue, although the presenter-led format is regarded as lower status within the media industry, it may offer more opportunities for conveying the complexity that is associated with evolutionary accounts. The authors conclude that the market context of television wildlife programming means that educational and entertainment aims and claims are indeed in tension, but with a counter-intuitive outcome.
Document language English
Publication Year 2006
Page/Pages p. 131-152
Journal Public Understanding of Science, 15 (2006) 2
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)