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Toward The Tipping Point: Igniting a Social Epidemic of Scientists, Engineers and Technology Roles on Television


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Title: Toward The Tipping Point: Igniting a Social Epidemic of Scientists, Engineers and Technology Roles on Television

Toward The Tipping Point Igniting a Social
Epidemic of Scientists, Engineers and Technology
Roles on Television
Sharon Campbell Waters, Ph.D.Tidewater Community
CollegeJune 29, 2006National Science
FoundationArlington, VAinitiating a dialogue
about the creation, implementation, and
publication of social epidemics
Purpose of the Dialogue Today
  • dialogos through the word
  • A dialogue is a stream of meaning flowing among
    us, through us and between us. This will make
    possible a flow of meaning in the whole group,
    out of which may emerge some new understanding.
    Its something new which may not have been in the
    starting point at all. Its something
    creativeand this shared meaning is the glue or
    cement that holds people and societies

Fictional Representations Matter...
  • the science and technology we ultimately see are
    partly shaped by the images of the work which
    exist outside the confines of the laboratory
    report or the scientific paper (Turney, 1998, p.
  • While news and other non-fictional treatments of
    SET fields, and particular roles within them,
    help shape public perceptions, it may be
    fictional depictions and accounts that have the
    greatest influence.

One of the Recommendations from the NSF Public
Affairs Advisory Group...
  • 2 NSF should strengthen its relationship with
    the traditional broadcast and print media in
    order to establish NSF as a leading resource for
    SET information news, and expertise. A few
    strategies to achieve this objective are
  • Field a group of experts that the media can turn
    to for objective information on recent advances
    and discoveries
  • Find imaginative ways to link science stories
    with headline news, introduce science content
    into popular news topics and provide essential,
    unbiased information about complicated or
    controversial science-related issues that affect
    peoples lives.

Among Recent Findings from the National Science
Foundations (NSF) Science Engineering
Indicators (2006)
  • Television is still the main source of
    information about ST, but the Internet is a
    strong competitor.
  • Most Americans do not think they are well
    informed about ST. While most have positive
    attitudes about the benefits of ST, some have
    reservations (moral issues, etc.)
  • Surveys on topics ranging from the environment to
    nanotechnology reveal a variety of perceptions
    and concerns.
  • But most importantly is the finding that

Television and Other Forms of Popular Culture
Influence What Adults Know and Think About Science
  • Of the comprehensive list (Table 7-1) of
    prime-time science programs on television in
    2005, none of the 29 shows are on broadcast
    networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, UPN, or WB) and
    only 3 are on PBS, the networks received by
    nearly all households.

The Time has Come to Ignite A Social Epidemic in
Science, Engineering and Technology (SET) Roles
on Television
  • According to Gladwell (2002) The Tipping Point is
    the biography of an ideathe phenomena of word of
  • Ideas and products and messages and behaviors
    spread just like viruses do (p. 7).
  • The possibility of sudden change is at the
    center of the idea of The Tipping Point. Tipping
    is about a specific idea permeating through
  • The Tipping Point is the magical moment of
    critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point
    (p. 12). Tipping happens only when a special
    person comes along, grabs an idea, and passes it

All Epidemics have Tipping Points. Wanted
Mavens, Connectors, Salesmen (women)
  • The Law of the Few states there are exceptional
    people who are capable of starting epidemics
  • Mavens - Mavens have the knowledge and the social
    skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics.
    Information brokers. Data banks. What sets Mavens
    apart, though, is not so much what they know but
    how they pass it along (p. 67). Mavens provide
    the message.
  • Connectors - are social glue. They spread the
  • Salesmen(women) - A select group of people with
    the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced
    of what we are hearing.
  • Are you a Maven, a Connector, or a Salesman
    (woman)? Or all three?

Social Epidemics of SET Roles on Television
  • 1816--Frankenstein - Hollywood didnt create the
    governing myth of modern biology (Turney, 1998,
    p. 3), Mary Shelley did.
  • Shelleys Frankenstein has long been a versatile
    frame for interpreting mankinds relationship
    with technology. She didnt offer predictions
    about the future of science, but she did at the
    beginning of the modern era, identify concerns
    which go to the heart of our response to science.

Frankenstein (1816-Present)
  • To make his creature, Victor Frankenstein
    dabbled among the unhallowed damps of the grave
    and frequented dissecting rooms and
    slaughterhouses. In Mary Shelleys day, as in our
    own, the health human form delighted and
    intrigued artists, physicians, and anatomists.
    But corpses, decaying tissue, and body parts
    stirred almost universal disgust. Alive or dead,
    whole or in pieces, human bodies arouse strong
    emotion--and account for part of Frankensteins
    enduring hold on us.

  • 1966 - Created by Gene Roddenberry. In March and
    April 1977, NASA produced a television commercial
    with Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) who,
    surrounded by models of the Space Shuttle and the
    Enterprise, encouraged qualified minorities and
    women to apply to NASA. Although a previous
    yearlong recruitment drive had garnered only a
    hundred applications from women and fewer than
    thirty-five from minorities, after Nichols
    commercial aired, NASA received over 8,000
    applications, 1,649 from women an over 1,000 from
    minorities. Three African American astronaut
    trainees were selected Guy Bluford, Frederick
    Gregory, and Ron McNair.

  • 2001 - (Also, Crossing Jordan, Cold Case, Law and
    Order, Forensic Files, Bones) - According to U.S.
    News World Report, televisions diet of
    forensic fantasy projects the image that all
    cases are solvable by highly technical science,
    and if you offer less than that, it is viewed as
    reasonable doubt. The burden it places on
    prosecutors is overwhelming. Prosecutors have
    named the phenomenon the CSI effect.

NUMB3RSPotential Social Epidemic?
  • 2005 a drama about an FBI agent who recruits
    his mathematical-genius brother to help the
    Bureau solve a wide range of challenging crimes
    in Los Angeles.
  • Provides interactive We All Use Math Everyday
    website for viewers http//

Notable Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople of
Social Epidemics in SET Fields
  • Leonardo DaVinci (Renaissance Man)
  • Gene Roddenberry
  • Florence Nightingale
  • Louis Pasteur
  • You

Coming to a Cell Phone Near You...
  • Live television - How much would you be willing
    to pay to watch your favorite science/engineering
  • While users already can get video on their mobile
    phones through their cellular phone companies,
    that information robs tremendous capacity from
    the carriers networks.
  • Instead, new technologies use separate antennas
    in metro areas to beam TV signals directly to
    cell phones, in much the same way broadcast
    television has worked for decades.
  • Will provide greater opportunities for
    science/engineering shows to tip!
  • According to Time magazine, todays children see
    the screen as an environment to be explored,
    inhabited, shared and shaped (March 27, 2006)

  • Gladwell, M. (2002). The tipping point How
    little things can make a big difference.
  • National Science Foundation (2006). Science and
    engineering indicators (annual reports).
    Washington, DC U.S. Government Printing
  • Roane, K. R. (2005). The CSI effect. U.S. News
    World Report. Available online at
  • Turney, J. (1998). Frankensteins footsteps
    Science, genetics, and popular culture. Yale
    University Press New Haven.