JCSMR Director’s Public Lecture: Comic Medical Science - Introducing Big Medical Research in the 1960s

Presented by ANU College of Health & Medicine

The 1960s were a heady decade for 'selling' Big Science to global publics. Medical research was included in this global effort. This talk uses one of the most effective popular science vehicles in Australia in the 1960s, the comic Frontiers of Science,  and focusses on the arguments used to both support medical research and introduce it to a global audience.  The importance of popular science in the 1960s has been under-appreciated as many of the questions we currently grapple with about science/society relations were framed during this period.  

The success of Frontiers of Science raises a number of questions. How is science, including biomedical science, mediated in this comic form, and how might these methods and processes illuminate our ways of thinking about current science mediations? Why use a comic strip, with its potential for imaginary worlds, to communicate science? How do we understand the purposes of this strip---education, a public relations exercise, to 'sell' science? These comics offer a number of methodological questions as well. What is their status as historical record? What can they tell us about the popular imagination of science of the time?

The strips also offer a vantage point for witnessing the globalization of science. They were conceived by a theoretical physicist at Sydney University (with close ties to Harvard and Cornell Universities) drawing on articles in contemporary science and popular science journals, thus providing a striking example of the circulation (rather than linear transmission) of scientific ideas. Overall, this comic text provides an occasion for an account of the power of pop science from the 1960s-a power both to frame issues and create audiences and markets for its own message.