A surfeit of science: The “CSI effect” and the media appropriation of the public understanding of science

Simon A. Cole

Over the past decade, popular media has promulgated claims that the television program CSI and its spinoffs and imitators have had a pernicious effect on the public understanding of forensic science, the so-called “CSI effect.” This paper analyzes those media claims by documenting the ways in which the media claims that CSI “distorts” an imagined “reality.” It shows that the media appropriated the analytic stance usually adopted by science advocates, portraying the CSI effect as a social problem in science communication. This appropriation was idiosyncratic in that it posited, as a social problem, a “surfeit” of knowledge and positive imagery about science, rather than the more familiar “deficits.” In addition, the media simultaneously appropriated both “traditional” and “critical” PUS discourses. Despite this apparent contradiction, the paper concludes that, in both discourses, the media and its expert informants insist upon their hegemony over “the public” to articulate the “reality” of forensic science.

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