David A. Kirby

David Allen Kirby (born 30 November 1968) is an American professor of science communication studies within University of Manchester’s Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. He researches, writes about, and teaches science communication and the history of science. He is best known for his work showing how fictional narratives can be used in the process of design and for his studies on the use of scientists as consultants for Hollywood film productions.

David A. Kirby presenting as co-headliner at the Geek Picnic in 2017, St. Petersburg, Russia.

Academic historyEdit

Kirby received his PhD in Zoology from the University of Maryland-College Park in 1996. He was an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department of American University until 2001 where he taught molecular biology and evolution. He then received a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship that allowed him to re-train in the fields of science communication and science & technology studies (STS) in Cornell University’s Department of Science and Technology Studies. In 2004 he took up his current position at the University of Manchester where he is now Professor of Science Communication Studies in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.[citation needed]

Academic workEdit

Kirby's scientific research was in the field of population genetics where he used techniques from molecular biology to explore the evolution of genetic diversity in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. His work contributed to our understanding of the role that genetic interactions play in evolution, a phenomenon known as epistasis.[1][2][3]

Kirby's concept of the diegetic prototype refers to the ways that fictional depictions can stimulate public discussions about social, cultural, and ethical implications of emerging technologies. The concept of the diegetic prototype provided one of the foundations for the creative approach to technological development known as design fiction.[4][5] According to Julian Bleecker, the creator of the term design fiction, the "diegetic prototype provides a principle for understanding the ways in which science fact and science fiction always need each other to survive. Kirby's primary impact on the field of science communication has been to bring the study of science in entertainment media into the mainstream of science communication studies. His work showed the importance of movies, television and other entertainment media for communicating science and it moved the field beyond its narrow focus on news media. He is director of the Science and Entertainment Lab.[6] His 2011 book Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists and Cinema was the first academic study of the interactions between the scientific community and the entertainment industry. The work focused on the contributions made by scientists who serve as consultants for Hollywood film productions and the subsequent impact these movies had on real world science and technology.

The book transcended traditional academic boundaries with reviews not only in key journals for the history of science,[7] science & technology studies,[8][9] and science communication[10][11] but also reviews in the prominent scientific journals Science and Nature[12] as well as journals in the fields of physics,[13] chemistry,[14][15] psychiatry, literary studies,[16] film studies,[17] and science education.[18] The book was also named one of Physics World magazine's top 10 best popular-physics books of 2011.[19] Kirby's work also provided an academic foundation for the development of initiatives to enhance the use of science in entertainment products including the National Academy of SciencesScience and Entertainment Exchange and the German program MINTEEE.[20][21][22]

In 2013 Kirby received an Investigator Award in the Medical Humanities from the Wellcome Trust for a project entitled "Playing God: Exploring the interactions among the biosciences, religion and entertainment media."[23] The goal of the project is to investigate the ways that entertainment professionals use science in entertainment medi, such as TV episodes, movies and computer games, and how religious communities respond to these entertainment texts. He is examining the period from 1930–1968 when religiously based movie censorship groups like the Hays Office and the Legion of Decency modified movie narratives in order to tell what they considered to be more appropriate stories about science in movies.[citation needed]

Kirby's early work after his transition into science communication and STS primarily addressed the relationship between cinema, genetics and biotechnology. He was the first scholar to analyse the 1997 film GATTACA.[24] He shows the ways in which the film serves as a bioethics text that warns society about embracing the notion that an individual's personality and capabilities are defined entirely by their genes, an ideology known as genetic determinism.[25] His other work on the topic of cinema, genetics and biotechnology shows how most movies simultaneously embrace genetic determinism while also strongly opposing any scientific attempts to change our genes.[26]

Science popularizationEdit

Kirby has given numerous public lectures on his research including co-headliner for the 2017 Geek Picnic in St. Petersburg, Russia, and co-headliner for the 2014 Imagine Film Festival.[27]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Kirby, D.A. (2018) "Movie Censorship, Science Communication and the Deficit Model," Science in Context, 31(1): 85-106.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2017) "Regulating Cinematic Stories About Reproduction: Pregnancy, Childbirth, Abortion and Movie Censorship in the US, 1930–1958," British Journal for the History of Science, 50(3): 451-472.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2013) "Forensic Fictions: Storytelling, Television Production, and Forensic Science," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 44(1): 92–102.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2011), Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, ISBN 9780262518703.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2010) "The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development," Social Studies of Science, 40(1): 41-70.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2007) "The Devil in Our DNA: A Brief History of Eugenic Themes in Science Fiction Films," Literature and Medicine, 26(1): 83-108.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2004) "Extrapolating Race in Gattaca: Genetic Passing, Identity, the New Eugenics, and the Science of Race," Literature and Medicine, 23(1): 184-200.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2003) "Scientists on the Set: Science Consultants and Communication of Science in Visual Fiction," Public Understanding of Science, 12(3): 261-278.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2003) "Science Consultants, Fictional Films and Scientific Practice," Social Studies of Science, 33(2): 231-268.
  • Kirby, D.A. (2000) "The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA," Science Fiction Studies, 27(2): 193-215.
  • Kirby, D.A., S. V. Muse & W. Stephan (1995) "Maintenance of pre-mRNA Secondary Structure by Epistatic Selection," Proc. of the National Academy of Sciences, 92: 9047-9051.


  1. ^ Kirby, D. A.; Muse, S. V.; Stephan, W. (1995-09-26). "Maintenance of pre-mRNA secondary structure by epistatic selection". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 92 (20): 9047–9051. Bibcode:1995PNAS...92.9047K. doi:10.1073/pnas.92.20.9047. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 40921. PMID 7568070.
  2. ^ Stephan, Wolfgang; Xing, Lin; Kirby, David A.; Braverman, John M. (1998-05-12). "A test of the background selection hypothesis based on nucleotide data from Drosophila ananassae". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 95 (10): 5649–5654. Bibcode:1998PNAS...95.5649S. doi:10.1073/pnas.95.10.5649. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 20433. PMID 9576938.
  3. ^ Hansen, Thomas F. (2013-08-12). "Why Epistasis is Important for Selection and Adaptation". Evolution. 67 (12): 3501–3511. doi:10.1111/evo.12214. ISSN 0014-3820. PMID 24299403. S2CID 17308944.
  4. ^ Bleecker, Julian (2009). Design fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Near Future Laboratory.
  5. ^ Lindley, Joseph; Coulton, Paul (2015-07-13). Back to the future: 10 years of design fiction (PDF). ACM. pp. 210–211. doi:10.1145/2783446.2783592. ISBN 978-1-4503-3643-7. S2CID 6898198.
  6. ^ "Science and Entertainment Lab". thescienceandentertainmentlab.com. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  7. ^ Gouyon, Jean-Baptiste (February 2012). "David A. Kirby, Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2011. Pp. xiv+265. ISBN 978-0-262-01478-6. £20.95 (hardback)". The British Journal for the History of Science. 45 (1): 146–148. doi:10.1017/S0007087412000325. ISSN 1474-001X.
  8. ^ Schneider, Jen (2012-02-18). "Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (review)". Technology and Culture. 53 (1): 252–253. doi:10.1353/tech.2012.0009. ISSN 1097-3729. S2CID 109056259.
  9. ^ Boon, Tim (July 2013). "Scientific advice in the film industry". Metascience. 22 (2): 517–520. doi:10.1007/s11016-012-9733-7. ISSN 0815-0796. S2CID 170360916.
  10. ^ Mills, Brett (2012-08-01). "Book Review: Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema". Public Understanding of Science. 21 (6): 774–775. doi:10.1177/0963662511422969. ISSN 0963-6625. S2CID 8778806.
  11. ^ Kreps, Gary L. (2012-10-01). "Book Review: Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema". Science Communication. 34 (5): 690–691. doi:10.1177/1075547012457600. ISSN 1075-5470. S2CID 146933990.
  12. ^ Hand, Kevin (2011-05-12). "Communication: Popcorn and Petri dishes". Nature. 473 (7346): 150–151. Bibcode:2011Natur.473..150H. doi:10.1038/473150a. ISSN 0028-0836.
  13. ^ Kakalios, James (2011). "Lights, camera, science". Physics World. 24 (12): 38–39. Bibcode:2011PhyW...24l..38K. doi:10.1088/2058-7058/24/12/39. ISSN 2058-7058.
  14. ^ Griep, Mark (July 2011). "Big screen, big influence". Nature Chemistry. 3 (7): 497. Bibcode:2011NatCh...3..497G. doi:10.1038/nchem.1082. ISSN 1755-4330.
  15. ^ "Lab Coats in Hollywood". Chemistry World. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  16. ^ "Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema – ProQuest". search.proquest.com. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  17. ^ "Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema – ProQuest". search.proquest.com. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  18. ^ Parham, Thomas (2012-11-09). "Lab coats in Hollywood: Science, scientists, and cinema". Science Education. 97 (1): 167–169. doi:10.1002/sce.21033. ISSN 0036-8326.
  19. ^ "Physics World's 2011 Books of the Year – Physics World". Physics World. 2011-12-19. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  20. ^ "Scientist Spotlight: David Kirby – Exchange". scienceandentertainmentexchange.org. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  21. ^ Burchby, Casey (2011-06-22). "David Kirby's Lab Coats in Hollywood Explains How Science Makes Sci-Fi and Comic Book Movies Plausible". L.A. Weekly. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  22. ^ Smaglik, Paul (2014-07-02). "Media consulting: Entertaining science". Nature. 511 (7507): 113–115. doi:10.1038/nj7507-113a. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 24999502.
  23. ^ "Investigator Awards in Humanities and Social Science: people we've funded | Wellcome". wellcome.ac.uk. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  24. ^ "Gattaca – The Next Reel Film Podcast". The Next Reel Film Podcast. 2013-03-29. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  25. ^ "David A. Kirby: The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA". www.depauw.edu. Retrieved 2018-10-15.
  26. ^ Kirby, David A. (2007). "The Devil in Our DNA: A Brief History of Eugenics in Science Fiction Films". Literature and Medicine. 26 (1): 83–108. doi:10.1353/lm.2008.0006. ISSN 1080-6571. PMID 18290363. S2CID 37919791.
  27. ^ "Scientists at Imagine: Kevin Grazier, science advisor for Gravity and David Kirby, author of Lab Coats in Hollywood". www.filmfestivals.com. Retrieved 2018-10-15.

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