3 hours test, choose 3 topics out of 5, and write 500 words for each.


York University

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Communicating Science: Film, Media, Journalism, and Society

Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences

17 hours till the test strart.

3 hours test, choose 3 topics out of 5, and write 500 words for each.
3 hours test, choose 3 topics out of 5, and write 500 words for each.

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Department of Physical and Environmental Sciences PSCD-11 Communicating Science: Film, Media, Journalism, and Society 2020 Outline Course Instructor (Lectures 1 - 12): Roberto Verdecchia Office: EV340 Office hours: Thurs 4:30 to 6:30 Email: roberto.verdecchia@utoronto.ca Course Coordinator (Lectures 1 - 12): Mandy Meriano Office: EV362 Telephone: 416 - 208 - 2775 Office hours: Thursday 1pm to 3 pm Email: mmeriano@utsc.utoronto.ca Course Teaching Assistant: Rachel Rigden rachel.rigden@mail.utoronto.ca Lecture time: Thursday 7 pm to 10 pm Location: IC 212 Index of Outline Topics -Course Description/Objectives -Marking Scheme -Lecture Topics and Readings -Assignments -General Information about the Assignments -Student Services Overview: The making of science documentaries/journalism: goals and realities. Description: When it comes to science, the media, both in its traditional and emerging forms, plays a key role in the global transfer of information. Potentially it is a vital bridge, mediating the gap between scientists and non-scientists, and enhancing the understanding of pressing environmental, social, and ethical questions. We live in a world where vital issues increasingly require an understand of complex scientific and technical issues. But the perennial problems of communication between specialists and the rest of us are complicated in our times by a highly polarized climate of skepticism towards institutions, perceived elites, and “fake news”. 1 How can an understanding of complex issues in science be successfully communicated to a wider audience? How can we recognize “bad science” even when it is being communicated brilliantly? How can we help others to do the same? These are just a few of the related challenges, all of which have pressing implications for the well being of our society. Finding answers to these questions is both more vital and more difficult than ever. This course will use traditional (print, radio, film, TV) and new media (including blogs, vlogs, and Twitter) to explore the role of science and scientists in society, and the role of media in conveying issues. Students will engage with filmmakers, TV and radio producers, journalists, bloggers, and academics in order to understand their approaches, choices, and the constraints within which they they work. Course Objectives: In this course, students will explore practical and theoretical issues around the role the media plays in communicating an understanding of developments in the sciences, and their implications in our daily lives. We will turn to filmmakers, radio and TV producers, broadcast executives, and others working in this field to gain an understanding of the inner workings and real-world forces that shape their decisions at each step of the process. Our interest is learning how to communicate science more effectively, but also how to recognize “bad science” no matter how enticing the packaging. My specific objective in this course is to provide students with a look “back stage” at the challenges and choices involved in the production of science journalism for a general audience. This simple objective raises many questions, not least among them: what are the influences at play in the making of a science, nature, or environmental documentary? What about a vlog or radio broadcast? How are complex situations distilled into narratives for a visual medium like film, short articles for your cell, or memes for Instagram? What is lost or gained in the quest to both tell the truth and tell a good story? How are decisions made in the contest between accuracy and simplifying — that slippery slope to “dumbing down”? Given limited broadcast hours and the demand for ratings, how do broadcasters decide what subjects get covered? Each session of Communicating Science will focus on a particular theme (nature, medicine, mathematics, etc) and a particular medium. During that class we will deconstruct a specific documentary film, program, website, etc. in order to illustrate and explore the topic. In each session, the question asked will be how scientific information has been ‘pictured’ for that media. Specific excerpts or programs will be screened during class to illustrate issues and demonstrate editorial decisions. Lecturer Roberto Verdecchia is an award-winning director and writer of television documentaries. He has been an independent producer for many years and has a longrunning history with CBC’s The Nature of Things, having started his career as a freelance researcher there over 25 years ago. He will be joined by guest speakers involved in the making of the works being explored. 2 Learning Outcomes Upon completion of this course, you will be better able to: - understand the relationships between scientific and mass media communications - explain and better analyse the role of media in communicating science - understand the differences in how science is communicated through various media, i.e., documentary films, news, peer reviewed publication, popular science magazines, science blogs, etc - develop and articulate a scientific idea in documentary form - develop a critical appreciation of the role of media, and particularly documentaries, in science communication MARKING SCHEME In addition to weekly class participation, students will be asked to complete two written assignments (submitted through Turnitin), give a short group presentation, and write a final exam. Assignment 1 (Due February 13 at the start of class) An analysis and critique of a science documentary focusing on: -the variety of ways that science is incorporated into the film. -the elements of the storytelling that affect, enhance and hinder the strength of the science behind the subject matter. -the influence of the film’s style, characters, and scenes as they impact the effectiveness of the science. Your paper should be no longer than 5 pages or approx. 1500 words, doublespaced, excluding title page, reference list, etc. and must be submitted through Turnitin (30%). Assignment 2 (Due March 12 at the start of class) Students will be asked to produce a thoughtful and credible proposal for their own science film on a subject of their choosing. -They will be asked to write up a formal treatment (no longer than 5 pages or approx. 1500 words, double-spaced, excluding title page, reference list, etc.) for a film that they might theoretically propose to a broadcaster. -This must include clear explanations of subject matter, theme, thesis, explication of how the story will unfold (i.e. key scenes and how they interconnect), scientific groundwork for the story, methods of illustrating the story, elements of film-making employed, scientific experts if any, scenes, characters, locations, graphics, and other didactic elements, with an eye to addressing the demand for both entertainment/engagement value, and scientific integrity. -The purpose of the “pitch” is to sell a project. That takes a good telling of a good story, it takes creativity and an eye for what your buyer (the broadcasters) needs for 3 a compelling, entertaining and understandable presentation of the science in a form suitable for their audience. - This assignment must be submitted through Turnitin (30%) Assignment 3: In-Class Group Presentation (Mar 19 and Mar 26) - students will work in groups of three and asked to explain a scientific theme or issue at three different levels of complexity: for a 7-8 year old, for a high school student, and then for a university peer. - the entire group presentation should take about 5 minutes - the group will receive a mark for the presentation as a whole, based on the clarity and creativity expressed for each appropriate level, including the use of analogies and other devices as discussed throughout the course - presentations will take place over the course of two weeks (5%) Grade Distribution Summary (percentage of total) Assignments (2 @ 30% each) 60 In-class presentation 5 Participation 15 Final Exam 20 Total Grade Possible 100 LECTURE SCHEDULE (tentative): Schedule may vary according to the availability of our guest speakers. Week 1: Thursday January 9 Objectives: understanding the structure of the course and its basic goal — the realworld factors influencing how science is communicated to a wider audience. Screening: LHC – To the Heart of Matter; Feynman: Fun to Imagine; other clips Our first class deals with the basic theme of the course: Communicating science and scientific ideas. We’ll screen, among other clips, a short documentary on particle physics and an interview with one of the top scientists (and science communicators) of the 20th century, Richard Feynman. There’s a great popular appetite for understanding physics at a non-specialist level. Many years ago, Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time became one of the best-selling science books of all time, but also the book most likely to be left unfinished. On the fiction front, Dan Brown’s mega-selling novels like to reference physics and 4 quantum computing, while other popular films and books on the topic are criticized as, “quantum mysticism” or pseudoscience. As Feynman himself said, “If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don’t understand quantum mechanics.” To what degree is it possible to explain ideas of pure science to people who have not spent years studying it? How do you bridge the gulf? Suggested reading for next week’s class A good article on how to look more actively at documentaries of all kinds. https://www.documentary.org/column/keep-close-watch-analyzing-documentarysstrengths-and-weaknesses Week 2: Thursday January 16 Topic: Learning to Look at Science Films Objective: An in-class study of the elements that go into visually translating and communicating scientific ideas. Screening: The Code Can you translate things like Einstein’s theories to a general TV audience in a meaningful way? What do you do when the work is so complex that even experts can’t agree on what a study means, or on the risk of a particular activity? Every film, book, program or article has to deal with reducing a large amount of often very complex information into a manageable size of comprehensible content. Those issues are never more daunting than when the science in question is mathematics or physics. How we can we make the abstract concrete? How can we turn the most rarefied thinking into something accessible to any interested viewer/reader? The Code is a mathematics-based documentary series directed by Stephen Cooter and Michael Lachmann, and presented by Prof Marcus du Sautoy. Now on Netflix, it originally aired on BBC Two in 2011. In the first episode, Du Sautoy reveals “a hidden numerical code that underpins all nature and that has the power to explain everything, from the numbers and shapes we see all around us to the rules that govern our lives.” Suggested readings for next week https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-elephants-can-teach-usabout-the-importance-of-female-leadership/2014/01/27/32db3f5e-7eeb-11e3-95c60a7aa80874bc_story.html https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/07/lion-pride-family-dynamicsfemales/ 5 Week 3: January 23 * Topic for Assignment 1 Topic: Complexity / The Nature film Objective: Communicating at the right level. / Analysing documentary tropes. Guest: Director Caitlin Starowicz Screening: Mommy Wildest Before our main screening, we’ll go over the topic of the first assignment. We will also look at a series of videos that explain scientific ideas at different levels of complexity, in preparation for the in-class presentations to come. Natural History or wildlife/nature films explore the life and life cycles of individual species interacting in a complex natural environment. They are among the most popular form of documentary film (science or otherwise), and often the most expensive to make. They require not only specialized skills and equipment, but also involve unique dangers absent in many other genres. Besides the dangers inherent in filming in the wild, there are also editorial dangers. For example, the danger of reducing the natural world to nothing more than a collection of beautiful images. Or the parallel danger that lies in ignoring the environmental threats that besiege the creatures and environments the films showcase. Where is the line dividing a nature film and an environmental film? Mommy Wildest: We used to think the wilderness was ruled by males – the lion, “king of beasts”, the mighty bull elephant, and the imposing baboon male. This documentary journeys to the African savannas to reveal a very different story. Mommy Wildest is a compelling, intimate portrait of three animal families where it’s the females that rule and mother who knows best. We enter the lives of fierce lion sisters, majestic elephant grandmothers, and regal baboon mothers who form sisterhoods to raise their families. Suggested readings for next week http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/03/scientists-look-indoor-biome-new-researchfrontier and, “Using Narratives and Storytelling to Communicate Science with Nonexpert Audiences”: https://www.pnas.org/content/111/Supplement_4/13614 Week 4: January 30 Topic: Information and Entertainment Objectives: Learning to analyze, continued. To explore tone and the balance between scientific content and entertainment. Screening: The Great Wild Indoors What are the tricks that nature films use to keep you watching? And how has technology changed how we view nature (or nature docs)? We will screen some short videos that go behind the scenes, and behind a director’s thinking, too. 6 Nature films are big business in the world of science documentary. But what kind of nature are we talking about? Why the bias towards whales, eagles, tigers and bears? Within the quiet confines of your home, wild things are also afoot. The great struggle to survive, the drama of life and death, goes on all around you. The Great Wild Indoors is a wildlife documentary that never goes outside, focusing on a new front of biological research: the indoor biome. It is also an example of balancing scientific content with entertainment in its use of narrative devices more typically seen in so-called ‘reality television’. Suggested readings for next week https://gizmodo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crispr-the-new-tool1702114381 and https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/crispr-gene-editing-damage1.4748980 Week 5: February 6 Topic: The social and ethical challenges of scientific breakthroughs Objectives: To explore how documentaries tackle cutting-edge developments and the larger issues raised by them. Guest filmmaker: Robin Bicknell, director Screening: The Genetic Revolution Many current scientific advances are thrilling for the possibilities that they present, but at the same time they pose deep ethical challenges to society. Perhaps none as much as the science and technology of gene editing. Imagine a simple procedure to erase a faulty gene in utero – no more babies born with Down Syndrome, for example. At the same time, imagine the threat of designer babies, all blue eyes, blonde hair and above-normal IQ. What role does science journalism have in raising red flags over these kinds of issues? And how are people to form opinions when the science is so complex? The ability to gain control of our DNA is ground-breaking and revolutionary but there are conflicting opinions among scientists as to how the technology should be used. The Genetic Revolution, for CBC’s The Nature of Things, follows the science as it progresses at a breakneck speed. Suggested readings for next week: Nature.com article on science and filmmaking: “Put it on camera: How to get into scientific film- and video-making” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-08862-6 7 Week 6: February 13 *Assignment 1 due at the start of class / * Topic of Assignment 2 Topic: Communicating science in smaller-size chunks. Objectives: To appreciate how format affects content. Guest: Su Rynard, filmmaker (tbc) Screening: Don’t Blink How does format, audience and content affect your presentation? Effective communication depends on knowing who it is you are speaking to, as well as delivering your content in the form that is appropriate. How much scientific wonder and info can be transmitted in 5 minutes? Playfully poignant and delightfully artful, the short series, Don’t Blink is a photographic and scientific exploration of the extraordinary parts of our daily world that cannot be seen by the naked eye. Created specifically for Discovery Channel GO and SCI GO, the show aims to reveal the magic and wonder in the everyday world. In each short episode, viewers explore imagery of different natural phenomena and dive deeper into the science behind them. We will also look at some more video examples of explaining ideas at three different levels of complexity. Reading Week: February 20 [ enjoy! ] Suggested reading for next week In preparation for your third assignment, have a look at the summaries of different lengths about global warming and how it works How Global Warming Works (35 words, 400 words, videos) http://www.howglobalwarmingworks.org And the following videos: [Quantum Computing Expert Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWJCfOvochA [Biologist Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty – CRISPR] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sweN8d4_MUg 8 Week 7: February 27 * Topic of Assignment 3 – group, in-class presentations Topic: The business of science documentary Objectives: To explore the role of the producer, and to learn what’s involved in getting that key sequence that makes your film. Guest: Bryn Hughes, producer Screening: Gorilla Doctors The making of a science film is usually an expensive proposition. How are these films financed? One of the keys to the funding of documentaries in Canada is having an assured TV broadcast. But what does it take to get your idea accepted for production by a broadcaster? What role does the broadcaster play and how much say do they have? And what kind of work does it take behind the scenes to get the footage or access you require? Producer Bryn Hughes presents Gorilla Doctors, a film that takes you to the spectacular Virunga mountains in Rwanda and DR Congo and into the world of the mountain gorilla, putting you right alongside jungle vets as they weigh the risks of intervening to save these endangered apes. Preparation for next week http://www.cbc.ca/radio/quirks Listen to one of the audio stories and consider specific ways in which the same story might have to be presented differently in a book, or film. Week 8: March 6 Topic: Audio Communication – radio and podcasts Objectives: Extending our discussion to include the differences between primarily visual and auditory media. Guest: Producer, CBC Quirks and Quarks For forty years the award-winning science program Quirks & Quark has brought science to the public by radio and podcasts. What are the challenges and possibilities of communicating science through an audio rather than a visual medium? Our guest producer will speak with us about how ideas are generated and turned into stories suitable for radio, and how that differs from television. Interviews and research are part of the process in both cases but the specifics vary: a story that might be a great radio item might not recommend itself as appropriate for a visual medium, and vice versa. Suggested reading and viewing for next week Visit https://www.cbc.ca/news/technology and read a few articles from this week, in preparation to discuss them at next week’s class. 9 Consider the difference between science communication and science journalism: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/dec/30/problem-with-science-journalism2015-reality-kevin-folta Week 9: March 13 *Assignment 2 due at the star ...
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