Science in Pieces: Public Science in the Deformation Age Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Brennen, Jonathan
    • Affiliation: Hussman School of Journalism and Media, Mass Communication Graduate Program
  • This dissertation investigates how public information about new scientific research flows through the contemporary media system. Arguing that public science is governed more by entropy than inertia, this project investigates the people, technologies, and processes through which difference is brought into flows of information about direct detection of dark matter experiments. Over six empirical chapters, the project considers how three types of organizational mediators of public science—multi-institution collaborations, communication offices at national laboratories, and science journalists—translate, move, preserve, and/or deconstruct information. To do so, it draws on diverse methods, including 62 semi-structured interviews with members of these organizations and an interpretive textual analysis of hundreds of news articles, press releases, and organizational documents. This project makes three broad contributions. First, it provides a detailed account of how science organizations are adopting new practices, structures, and formats to reach new audiences amid changing technologies, economic pressures, and cultures. Second, it extends Bruno Latour’s circulating reference to present a new descriptive and normative model of the epistemology of public science communication that acknowledges how the reduction of technical complexity can productively afford an expansion of public meaning. It argues that good public communication must shepherd the relationships and connections that allow truth to circulate across time, space, and reference, while simultaneously working to open content for public discussion, consideration, and meaning making. Finally, this project considers what happens when these mediations go wrong. Instead of mis or disinformation—information lacking truth—this project recognizes another form of information degradation: deformation. Deformations are structural artifacts of the contemporary media system: pieces and fragments broken off in the grinding of disparate logics, systems, technologies, and messages. They emerge when information loses its organization, its formation. Observing deformation in science and beyond, this project ultimately argues that despite decades of scholarship on the “information society,” ours is better recognized as the “deformation society.”
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Friedman, Barbara
  • Peters, Ben
  • Kreiss, Daniel
  • Saffer, Adam
  • Anderson, Chris
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

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