Should fans get a life? (or tell us a lot about public engagement?)

I have a guest post over at Matthew Nisbet’s new Age of Engagement.

The blog had featured a post about modern fan culture and marketing. I couldn’t help but fold this into some thoughts on science communication. Can an awareness of tensions and connections between fan culture and entertainment marketing have applications for work aiming to connect members of “the public” with scientific ideas and communities? I left a comment and Nisbet asked me to expand as a post.

It’s something I’ve thought about a bit over the last few years. I discussed the notion of a rhetorical reference to a community of readers in my PhD, and discussed audience-to-audience interaction with students when teaching courses on science online and science’s interactions with fiction. I also wrote an article a couple of years back about branding and children’s literature which involved some study of social marketing. I should admit the blogpost was slightly hastily put together though, grabbing through some disparate ideas on something that there probably should be more research into. There’s a load more I could say around the topic, I’m still working out how to put them together, and what would make the right case study. I’d love to hear further thoughts (or examples, from science and/ or fan culture), either here of over at the Big Think post itself.

Nisbet’s been blogging about science communication for a while. His ‘Framing Science’ at scienceblogs is mentioned in my list of blog recommendations for prospective students last month). His new blog promises to maintain this interest, but take a broader look at communication, culture and public affairs, as well as reinvigorate his interest in the relationship between science and religion (see his introductory post for more details).

He’s been setting up in his new home with a prestigious quantity of posts for the start of term. I’ve already been interested to read pieces reflecting upon the NYTimes article about peer review, and (re)framings of nuclear power. The Big Think site it is hosted on is sometimes known as the YouTube for ideas, and there are a fair number of videos in blogposts (which I’d say is a good thing, something and plan to experiment with myself in the next year).

So, go read my ramblings on fan culture and public engagement, let me know if you have any thoughts, and do add Nisbet’s new blog to your list of regular reads.

One thought on “Should fans get a life? (or tell us a lot about public engagement?)

  1. Richard Jones

    This is an interesting subject which to me suggests the conjugation:
    "I am a serious science amateur with an interest in genre;
    You are a harmless member of a devoted fanbase;
    He is a deranged cultist with no grip on reality."

    Some years ago I spent quite a lot of time on my blog engaging with an on-line community of enthusiasts for the more radical visions of nanotechnology derived from the writings of Eric Drexler and his followers. It occurred to me that this group had a lot in common with a fan community (though this is a comparison they wouldn't welcome). They have a very conflicted attitude to mainstream science: they were very keen to report on their blogs latest science findings (derived from conventional media and press releases) which supported their views;indeed, these were the leading and mostly widely read blogs on the subject and thus had an important role in communicating science to a wider public. But, given the criticisms their views were getting from mainstream scientists (notably Rick Smalley) they were prone to suspect conspiracies, and frequently questioned the legitimacy of expertise of these critics. The had their own experts (including Drexler himself), who largely lacked conventional credentials, and they would accuse mainstream scientists who didn't agree with them of not having studied the matter in depth. They had an obvious affinity for traditional science fiction themes, but also seemed to share strongly libertarian politics and an ideological commitment to transhumanism. There are other on-line communities that share some of these characteristics (and these communities clearly overlap) – those concerned with "radical life extension" and cryonics, enthusiasts for strong artificial intelligence and people expecting the imminent arrival of the Singularity.

    At the time, I saw some irony in the fact that I was arguing in favour of two-way public engagement and valuing lay expertise at the same time as I was arguing at length that this particular lay community was driven by inaccurate science and dubious ideology. I think I persisted, partly because I thought that they were at least in part "interestingly wrong", and partly because I remember a saying of Paul Feyerabend (I think) that no idea in science is so dumb that something useful might not later come out of it. But mostly it was clear to me that their ideas were enormously influential in the media and popular culture, so it was important that some scientists did engage with it critically. It was notable how few scientists did engage in any sustained and serious way.

    Reply

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