Connecting to the audience,  Science communication

“Pop culture scaffold” — What it is, and how it’s used in science communication

To understand the concept of pop culture scaffold, we’ll rely on Neil deGrasse Tyson—acclaimed astrophysicist, planetary scientist, TV personality, science educator and science communicator—who advocates the use of pop culture references to make scientific concepts graspable to audiences of non-scientists.

Pop culture—or popular culture—is the set of practices, beliefs, and objects that embody the most broadly shared meanings of a social system. It includes media objects, entertainment and leisure, fashion and trends, and linguistic conventions, among other things. Popular culture is usually associated with either mass culture or folk culture, and differentiated from high culture and various institutional cultures (political culture, educational culture, legal culture, etc.).

So think music, film, books, television, radio, comics, literature, celebrities and so on—all that is appealing and has mass accessibility, and all that helps to connect with the audience by sharing common elements of daily life.

Tyson says that people carry with them a certain scaffold of pop culture—in other words, a common knowledge base. When he identifies the scaffold carried by a specific audience, he attaches science to something that the audience cares about. Therefore, he recommends to invest in pop culture, so to be able to interface science with a specific audience.

Here is an example of how he connects science to the pop culture scaffold. In a series of tweets posted after the Bengals’ incredible comeback overtime win from a 17-point deficit, he raised the question: “Did the Earth’s rotation help the Bengals win?”. Tyson wrote that the Earth’s rotation—and thus the Coriolis force—may have helped steer the game-winning field goal between the posts.

Don’t forget that pop culture changes quickly, so keep yourself updated on these changes—you may otherwise risk to make connections that the audience won’t be able to catch.