Toronto Metropolitan University
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Sensational Science : A Rhetorical Analysis of Public Science Education in Entertainment Programming

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posted on 2023-03-20, 21:01 authored by Salman J. Qureshi
Film and television media’s adherence to the deficit model has been under scrutiny by science communication scholars for decades. This model suggests that building public trust in scientific authority is as simple as ‘dispensing’ scientific facts to a “scientifically illiterate general public” through mass media (Kirby, 2003). However, despite a virtual scholarly consensus that the deficit model is deepening the public’s misunderstanding of science/scientists, it remains relevant as a method for building trust in scientific authority (Kirby; Vidal, 2018). Using Sonja K. Foss’s generic rhetorical criticism methodology melded with rhetorical film criticism, this MRP assesses the narrative structures, tropes, and stylistic motivations that sustain the deficit model in modern entertainment media. Focusing on didactic scenes, this research paper identifies the rhetorical strategies deployed by the respective directors of the following films and television programs: Interstellar (2014), Stranger Things (2016), Event Horizon (1997), and Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980). The programming that this research paper explores were selected to represent a small sample of both accurate and inaccurate portrayals of theoretical science and to discover if their organizing principles adhere to the deficit model. For science communication scholars this research will highlight effective methodologies of communicating scientific content in narrative formats and serve as an important step in untangling the mystery of the deficit model’s longevity in popular media.





  • Master of Professional Communication


  • Professional Communication

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP