Public Health in the Media

Course content

Public health research is often in the news – from advice on how much women should drink during pregnancy to debates about vaccination policy. But communicating with the public is also an integral part of public health research and practice itself, from gathering potential user perspectives to media campaigns that try to persuade people to change health behaviours. In both cases, it is remarkably difficult to communicate in a way that satisfies everyone: researchers often complain that their work is over simplified and misrepresented, journalists respond that they are just doing their job, and members of the public often feel unrepresented or unmotivated by health promotion campaigns. Today, online media and public engagement events offer new opportunities for bringing research closer to the public, but how they function is not well understood. Science communication research helps us to understand why and how communication has (or doesn’t have) the desired effects.

The course will be structured around a series of examples of public health communication spanning a range of media; e.g., news articles, online video talks, public health campaigns, and museum exhibitions. Each example will be paired with relevant empirical or theoretical articles that will help us to analyse and evaluate the communication.

Whilst not offering practical skills training, the course offers students a forum for developing a reflective understanding of public communication that can then inform their future media work and interactions with other professionals in interdisciplinary public health contexts.


MSc in Public Health Science
BSc in Public Health Science

Learning outcome

After the course, students should be able to:


* Map out the landscape of public health science communication, describing some of the diverse goals, effects, and challenges of communicating with public audiences, and some of the advantages and disadvantages of different media.

* Describe some central research questions and methods of science communication studies, and consider how these apply specifically to the public health context.

* Describe some key theoretical concepts in science communication studies.


* Analyse real-world examples of public health research in the media, in terms of their goals, methods, and possible effects, using theoretical and empirical literature to guide analysis.

* Critical analyse how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication, and identify possibilities for alternative forms of communication.

* Reflect on how and when public health researchers should communicate with public audiences, and in relation to different stages of the research process and to different goals of health prevention, promotion, and intervention.


* Apply the reflective skills gained during the course in future interactions with the media, whether giving interviews, writing popular articles, or working on health promotion

* Apply the critical analytical tools developed with respect to examples of public health communication to other media and cultural products

Class work will include student presentations, group work and plenum discussion of the examples, with short lectures by the course leader to draw out key points from the literature. Students will be asked to look at the examples before each class, so that we can make the best use of the class time.

Literature will be uploaded to Absalon, along with reading guides. 

Key texts include:

Gregory, J., & Miller, S. (1998). Science in Public: Communication, Culture, and Credibility. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Hollimann, R., Thomas, J., Smidt, S., Scanlon, E., & Whitelegg, E. (Eds.). Investigating Science Communication in the Information Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

M. Bucchi & B. Trench (Eds.). Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology. Oxford: Routledge. Including chapters by Logan, R. A. Health campaign research, and by Bucchi, M. Of deficits, deviations and dialogues: Theories of public communication of science.

Examples of public health in the media will be provided for students to look at between classes, so that we can maximize the use of class time to discuss and analyse the examples using the literature. 

Type of assessment
Portfolio, n/a
The exam will be a portfolio task, with 3 smaller assignments building up to a final, larger analysis of an example of public health in the media, carried out after the course finishes. The smaller assignments will relate closely to the class work, and students will receive feedback on them before conducting the final analysis. Students will be able to edit the whole portfolio before handing it in. Students may work in groups but must hand in individual portfolios.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
External censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

The evaluation of the porfolios will assess whether the learning goals listed above have been achieved. Students should use the exam to demonstrate that they can critically analyse public health communication, combining their knowledge of public health issues and personal reflections on the media with theoretical and empirical literature in science communication studies. An awareness of the methodological difficulties in planning and evaluating public communication should inform their analysis. 

Excellent exams will do the following: 


* Across the portfolio, demonstrate an awareness of the diverse forms of science communication and their goals, advantages, and disadvantages. 

* In the final portfolio task, discuss research questions they could ask to take their analysis further and point to key methodological issues. 

* Correctly and flexibly use some key theoretical concepts from science communication studies in their analysis. 


* Discuss the range of possible goals and effects of media, supported well by the literature, and with an awareness of the uncertainties of their analysis. 

* Take a reflective, critical perspective on how health, bodies, and research are represented in media communication, and on the role of public health researchers. 


Part time Master and Diploma courses

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 20
  • Exam
  • 40
  • Preparation
  • 78
  • English
  • 138