Author: Mircea Sava – University of Bucharest, Romania

Time travel and journeys to remote places in the Universe have always been preeminent themes of SF literature and SF film, but they are also present in the inventory of the most common topics that are scientifically explained in popular science books and in TV science documentaries. At a first glance, the proximity between the two categories of media formats consists only in the common subject. But if we consider them from the perspective of science communication, we can identify in this transfer of the space-time journey theme a transfer of the functioning mechanisms of popular culture. These mechanisms have become today models of production and consumption for the genres of science communication and not only for the already established popular genres of SF literature or film. This paper aims to analyse the ways in which time travel and journeys to distant places in the Universe are exploited as themes in a series of books and documentaries of popular physics in an effort to explain science at the border with fiction, as an effect of adopting popular culture models in science communication. In Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe, and also in the series of documentaries derived from these popular science books, there is a considerable proportion that the joint themes with SF literature and film have in their construction. This has some implications for the endeavour of the boundary work between science and fiction, in which the producers of popular science engage. Explaining science through fiction produces cracks at the border between the two and proposes a shared territory. At the same time, positioning science near science-fiction highlights the factual poverty of fiction and thus strengthens the boundary between the two.

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Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Time

Author: Mircea Sava, University of Bucharest, Romania

Online media provides science communication with valuable tools which enrich the complex transmedial web of popular science, not only with the new social networks for public engagement, but also with updated, mixed forms of the traditional ways of communicating science. Public lectures held by scientists for non-specialists are one kind of such traditional endeavours which have nowadays been modelled by digital media. This paper aims to analyse how classical public lectures have been transformed in online media, by referring to some specific TED talks (Technology Entertainment Design) given by or starred by physicists Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene: Questioning the Universe, Making Sense of String Theory, Is Our Universe the Only Universe and Stephen Hawking’s Zero G Flight. The performative events of traditional conferences intended for the general audience are associated with elements of show and entertainment in a unique way in these TED talks. This metamorphosis is possible due to a negotiation process through which scientists accept to mix scientific information with entertainment, often with the help of professional science communicators, in order to reach a greater audience and to engage the public with science. From their research interests and their popular physics books, the two scientists preserve in their TED talks only the themes that are the closest to the public’s daily concerns or the subjects which retain elements of an out of the ordinary nature. The combination of different media is an omnipresent element of these talks, making them an evocative illustration of the convergence specific to online media. The digital public lectures, exemplified by the TED talks of
scientists Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene, are a new form of nodal points in the transmedial web of popular science, which offer a meaningful way to bring the public closer to the otherwise abstract science of physics.