Why did the proton cross the road? Humour and science communication

Hauke Riesch

The use of humour 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 humour in informal science education, or on the wider social functions and effects of humour 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 humour and comedy and tries to apply some of its insights to the effects humour might have when used in science communication. Although not intended to be anti-humour, this note attempts at least to start a more critical conversation on the value of humour in the communication of science.



Laughing in the Face of Climate Change? Satire as a Device for Engaging Audiences in Public Debate

Inger-Lise Kalviknes Bore, Grace Reid
Satire has long offered social and political commentary while entertaining audiences. Focusing on a Canadian stage play and its local reception, this article considers some of the key benefits and challenges of using satire to promote public engagement with climate change science. It demonstrates that satire can promote active and positive engagement with climate change debates. However, using satire risks confining representations to the humorous realm and requires communicators to consider the humor preferences of different publics. The article proposes recommendations for using satire in science communications.


Communicating through humour: A project of stand-up comedy about science

Bruno Pinto, David Marçal, Sofia G. Vaz

A study of a project on science stand-up comedy developed in Portugal between 2009 and 2013 is presented, in which thirteen scientists, coordinated by a science communicator and a professional actor, created and presented comedy acts. Eleven of these scientists were asked about their motivations to participate, the process of performance development and the perceived value of the project. Personal motivations were highly important, but professional reasons were also mentioned. Working in a group with the guidance of coordinators, testing and re-writing the texts and gradually gaining confidence on stage were considered fundamental in the development of the shows. Additionally, a questionnaire revealed that the audience, most of whom were young adults, and held a higher education degree, were satisfied with the show. Overall, both participating scientists and audience members considered that stand-up comedy has potential for science communication.


Einstein Versus Neutrinos: The Two Cultures Revisited With the Media Coverage of a Scientific News Item in Cartoons

Martí Domínguez

This article focuses on the news coverage given to the CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) announcement that neutrinos might exceed the speed of light, flying in the face of Albert Einstein’s theory. By studying 140 cartoons about the news item published between the CERN’s announcement at the end of September 2011 up until its refutation in February 2012, we selected 33 devoted to Albert Einstein. We study the iconographic use of Einstein’s figure, and how the suggestion he might have been wrong stirred up greater interest among the cartoonists than when it was proven his ideas are still fully in force.