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The Search for Ancient DNA in the Media Limelight: A Case Study of Celebrity Science

Jones, ED; (2017) The Search for Ancient DNA in the Media Limelight: A Case Study of Celebrity Science. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This is the first academic historical account of the search for DNA from ancient and extinct organisms and the first account of the celebrity science concept. The search for DNA from fossils surfaced from the interplay between paleontology, archeology, and molecular biology in the 1980s and has evolved from an emergent into a more established technoscience today. However, it has evolved under intense public interest and extreme media exposure, particularly as it coincided with and was catalyzed into the media spotlight by the book and movie Jurassic Park in the 1990s. Drawing on historical material and oral history interviews with over fifty scientists, I explore ancient DNA’s disciplinary development and explain its relationship with the media, especially through examining its close connection to de-extinction, the idea of bringing back extinct species. As the discipline developed, researchers responded to its technoscientific challenges and status as a public-facing practice. Authentication of research results was a primary problem for scientists. Here, contamination concerns placed the practice’s credibility on the line. However, celebrity was also a crucial component to ancient DNA’s disciplinary development. While media mobilized the practice, it destabilized it, too. This thesis argues that the search for ancient DNA can be characterized as a history of a celebrity science. I argue that a celebrity science develops within a shared conceptual space of professional and popular interests. Media are crucial in the making of a celebrity science, pursuing the science and scientists for the news values. But researchers participate in this process, too, responding positively and negatively to the attention. Ultimately, a celebrity science is the outcome of prolonged publicity advanced by a relationship actively pursued and produced by both scientists and media members. Ancient DNA as a case study of celebrity science has implications for the process of science and science communication.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: The Search for Ancient DNA in the Media Limelight: A Case Study of Celebrity Science
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Third party copyright material has been removed from ethesis.
Keywords: Ancient DNA, Celebrity Science, De-Extinction, Fossils, Media, Disciplinary History, Oral History, Science Communication
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1566827
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