Open main menu

Science in popular culture

Computer programmer using a programming language to protest the President, 2017

Science in popular culture is the treatment of scientific themes and issues in popular media such as cinema, music, television and novels.[1][page needed] There is a branch of fiction which specialises in such themes – science fiction.[2]:172 In such works, the laws of science are commonly distorted as a form of artistic license.[3][page needed]



Before the 19th century, new discoveries or developments in science did not uniformly influence society. The average farmer would have no knowledge of a new surgical technique or newly discovered element, and even if they did know about it, they may not understand all the research and mechanisms of it. As industrialization and urbanization rose, people began leaving their homes to go work in the large factories, which had a negative impact on traditional beliefs.[4] The new scientific knowledge was challenging traditional beliefs and bringing up new questions that were never thought of before, and that intrigued the public.[4] One still argued example is the argument of evolution.[5] Even though it had provided somewhat of an answer of where did we come from, it also went against what the church said, and thus became controversial.[5] People started to learn about new ideas and ways of thinking while being exposed to new kinds of people while working.[4]

There was a shift, beginning in the 19th century, of scientific and technological knowledge being inserted into people's everyday lives. This was due to knowledge becoming more appealing and accepted by entrepreneurs, who would then publicize those ideas to the public. One example is the development of the lobotomy, and how even though it was a medical procedure, it was ridiculed by many doctors and was seen as controversial within the scientific community.[6] The main reason it was so popular to the public was because it was better than the alternative, mental illnesses that included schizophrenia, depression, compulsive disorders, and many more.[6] As the scientific discoveries improved peoples' lives, it became a more active participant in society to help solve some of humanity's problems.

By the mid-19th century, knowledge became more specialized and institutionalized where only those that had spent years studying a topic could fully grasp the theories. As more was discovered within a given field, the more those trying to discover something new had to delve further into a specific field.[4] For example, during the beginning of biological research scientists wanted to understand how animals were related, by creating trees of life to show how they believe each animal is related to one another, this was typically done based on the animal's traits.[7] Now scientists have to focus microscopically to discover something new, like DNA sequences or a new protein that is involved in the complex functions of life.[7][8] An emphasis in classification encourage scientists to concentrate in a single field.[4][8] As scientists went deeper into their field, the separation between fields to the point that two scientists from different areas of study wouldn’t be able to discuss their respective discoveries to one another.[4] This specialization also discouraged average citizens with no specific background in the field from learning about it. Due to the gap between the public and scientific discoveries, people began viewing some of the scientific discoveries as irrelevant since they could neither understand it or see it within their community or lives. For instance, the average person on the street wouldn't know anything about a recently discovered protein, but might know about the stock market treads.

Popular science, which is a more simplified and vague version of a given scientific topic, was developed to combat the specificity of the sciences.[4] Usually in the form of written media at the time, this allowed scientific ideas to be presented to the public in a way they could understand it.[4] It became very popular with the public as it made science seem as though it had no boundaries, that anything was possible. From popular science stemmed science fiction, which was constructed from a blend of observations and fantasy and didn’t need consistency, since it was not truly real.[9] It substituted science for magic since the audience didn’t necessarily need to know how it did what it did, but rather what it did do.[4] It allowed for imagination to collide with science to form fantasy. Popular response of the sciences continues to be a combination of support and distrust depending on the topic.[4]


Alternative WorldsEdit

Another world where fictional characters inhabit. Can look like our world with some other worldly traits, like in The Wizard of Oz, or can be am adjusted version of our world back in time, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy.[10] More examples include, but are not limited to: Star Wars, Alice in Wonderland, and more.

It can also be like we are within out world but something within history was altered.[10] Like with the Eden trilogy, where it imagines if the dinosaurs were never wiped out.[10] Another could be the TV series the Man in the High Castle, where in WWII the other side had won.

Teaching the publicEdit

This includes all the TV channels that are dedicated to informing the public on a given topic, like theScience Channel, Discovery Channel, History Channel, and more. This also includes past and present TV series centered around teaching about a scientific topic, like the famous Bill Nye the Science Guy, Original Cosmos, Cosmos reboot-Neil deGrasse Tyson, and many more. Their main goals are to inform the public on different theories in a way that they could understand.


The focus of these is the invention and use of robots that look and act like humans.[10] Today there has been development of some prototype androids, like Sophia that was created by Hanson Robotics, where she can interact with us and have normal conversations and even move, though it is limited.[11] Other examples include: Blade Runner, Westworld, and The Terminator franchise.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Thurs, Daniel Patrick (2004). Science in popular culture: contested meanings and cultural authority in America, 1832–1994. University of Wisconsin Madison.
  2. ^ Erickson, Mark (2005). Science, culture, and society : understanding science in the twenty-first century. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 9780745629759.
  3. ^ Riper, A. Bowdoin Van (2002). Science in popular culture : a reference guide. Westport Connecticut: Greenwood press. ISBN 9780313318221.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Handlin, Oscar (1965). "Science and Technology in Popular Culture". Daedalus. 94 (1): 156–170. JSTOR 20026900.
  5. ^ a b "Overview: The Conflict Between Religion and Evolution". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 2009-02-04. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  6. ^ a b Levinson, Hugh (2011-11-08). "The strange and curious history of lobotomy". BBC News. Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  7. ^ a b "HISTORY OF BIOLOGY". Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  8. ^ a b "Key Events in the History of Biological Study |". Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  9. ^ Franklin, H. Bruce. "Science Fiction: The Early History". Retrieved 2018-06-23.
  10. ^ a b c d Van Riper, A. Bowdoin (2002). Science in Popular Culture: a Reference Guide. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31822-0.
  11. ^ "Six Life-Like Robots That Prove The Future of Human Evolution is Synthetic". Futurism. 2017-08-09. Retrieved 2018-06-23.