The use of humor in public discourse about science has grown remarkably over the past few years, and when used in science communication activities is being seen as a great way to bring science to the public through laughter. This research note from the journal Public Understanding of Science looks at studies in the fields of psychology, education and particularly sociological comedy research to theorize how humorous public discourse about science can affect the public understanding of science.
Through the examples in this research note, author Hauke Riesch, a lecturer in the Department of Social Sciences, Media and Communications at Brunel University London, explained he hopes to open up a discussion on the use of humor in science communication and public engagement, not so much because all the examples given are intentional public engagement activities, but because they exemplify some of the potential pitfalls that humor in public engagement could also easily fall. His note is aimed at conceptualizing what some of these pitfalls may be by referring to the sociology of humor.
As the paper’s abstract notes:
The use of humor in public discourse about science has grown remarkably over the past few years, and when used in science communication activities is being seen as a great way to bring science to the public through laughter. However, barely any research has been published either on the often-assumed beneficial learning effects of humor in informal science education, or on the wider social functions and effects of humor about science and how humorous public discourse about science can influence the public understanding of science and the science–society relationship. This research note reviews some of the literature on the psychology and sociology of humor and comedy and tries to apply some of its insights to the effects humor might have when used in science communication. Although not intended to be anti-humor, this note attempts at least to start a more critical conversation on the value of humor in the communication of science.