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When Science Goes Funny

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorSeptember 22, 2010 8:45 PM


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Politics is the gruel that feeds The Daily Show and The Colbert Report with endless material. But science often finds its way onto both shows as well. In an interesting post, Matthew Nisbet wonders, to what effect? He asks

what evidence is there for the potential of these programs"”rich with satire and built on comedy"”to engage viewers on complex issues such as climate change, or to promote learning about science more generally?

Recent findings, according to one scholar interviewed by Nisbet, suggest that

that satirical news programs can be important outlets for broadening public attention to science and the environment.

Which seems kind of obvious to me, and perhaps to anyone else who recalls seeing Paul Ehrlich appear over a dozen times on Johnny Carson's show in the 1970s. (I didn't because I was too young then.) But there are larger questions raised in Nisbet's interview with Lauren Feldman, a communications professor at American University, such as whether comedy shows detract from the seriousness of issues like climate change. On a related note, Feldman raises an even more important issue, which has a lot to do with how information on climate change is disgested by the public:

Another area that is ripe for study is the role of news satire in promoting news media literacy. Arguably, The Daily Show is at its best when it is critiquing the news media. An important question is whether watching the program actually helps make audiences more critical and discerning news consumers, a question that is increasingly relevant given the vast amount of information "“ much of which is of dubious credibility "“ that citizens are forced to sift through in our contemporary media environment.

The problem here is that people tend to view information (and especially hot button issues like climate change) through a predisposed political or ideological filter.

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