Sunday, September 23, 2018

MediaTheory: Theories, Evolution and the Flat Earth (W2-P1) Fa18

Most com theory textbooks jump right into the middle of com theory without providing much context.  How does relate to us?  How does theory relate to concepts of science and to research.  We need this larger context.

One way to begin a discussion of communication theory is to start with the general concept of theory.  What is a theory?  One way to do this is to start with a discussion of theories that we are already familiar with.

For our discussion of communication theory let's start with a basic definition of the word theory and a common example from biology and we'll mix in a little flat-earth theory as well.

theory is an explanation for how something works, how something happens. 

To get a good grasp of what a theory is, let's start by looking at a theory from the field of biology, a theory you may have picked up in high school or college biology.

One of the best explanations of biological evolution and the mechanism that drives evolution is found in Carl Sagan's Cosmos video series which was based on the book Cosmos. In the following video Sagan describes the process of artificial selection.  As you are watching this clip from Cosmos, be sure to identify and be able to explain the mechanism that drives evolution.

Let's start first in Japan some time ago and the story of a drowned boy-emperor, a small crab and the idea of artificial selection.

As presented in the videos, the theory of evolution is an explanation of the wide-variety of life on planet Earth. 

Flat-Earth Theory

Now let's move to a different kind of theory, a theory that explains the world and our place in it by saying the Earth is flat, not round.  What are your initial reactions to that idea?

This may lead to the idea that there are good theories and bad theories, better explanations of the world we observe and not so good explanations.  How does one judge theories?  How does one critique?

Let's go back to Dr. Sagan and see how he approaches the flat earth theory.

Dr. Sagan was a famous science communicator often appearing on TV from the 1970s to the 1990s to explain scientific concepts. 

Let's update things now.  Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson follows in Dr. Sagan's footsteps as today's famous science communicator.  You may have seen Dr. Tyson on TV or on the web.

Dr. Tyson offers his critique of the flat-earth theory.

How did he critique the flat earth theory?  How do you judge a theory?


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