From The Character of Science

The Character of Science: Episode 1 Life Imitating Art

The Character of Science podcast is produced by our Engagement and Society team

The Character of Science: Episode 1 Life Imitating Art

23rd June 2022

About Episode 1:

Breaking down Contagion (2011)

The first episode, Life Imitating Art, looks at Steven Soderbegh and Scott Z. Burns’ movie, Contagion, a Hollywood production that depicts the global fallout of a viral outbreak. It is certain to be a topic that has strong resonance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recorded during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2021, the podcast panel contains expert analysis from:

Dr Adam Kucharski (London Schoool of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK)

Professor Elizabeth Stokoe (Loughborough University, UK)

Professor Heidi Larson (London Schoool of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK).

Together, Jon and his guests highlight a number of issues raised by Contagion’s portrayal of a worldwide pandemic:

Can pop-culture enable a clearer dialogue between scientists, policy makers, and the public?

Do relatable characters in a virus outbreak movie help us to process our pre-conceptions, fears and emotions around the Covid-19 pandemic?

Should have taken more notice of Contagion’s cautionary story?

Could fictional Hollywood movies be used as a tool to guide the way we learn to live with Covid-19? Can it even be used to predict the impact of novel viruses and pandemics in future?

Does Contagion provide a template to combat the scepticism and misinformation that we have seen with COVID-19 science, vaccines and research?

About the podcast series:

Jon Roberts (Podcast presenter) describes the aim of the podcast, as follows:

“This is a podcast on how we can use science-fiction TV/movies as a barometer for how we feel about science. In each episode, our guests touch on the implications of fiction becoming reality, and how movies can be used to communicate the science that is changing our world.”

The 4 episode series attempts to explore how pop culture can get people outside of academia talking about genomics. In doing so, Jon and his guests tackle some of the more challenging ethical questions that science fiction on the big-screen raises:

Prenatal testing, eugenics, the creation of a genes-based caste system

The commercialisation, and subsequent potential for the ghettoisation of genetics

Should there be limits to what a scientist can do?

Does accuracy matter in how science is portrayed in fictional films?

Related Link:


Robarts L, Roberts J (2022) Life Imitating Art (Episode 1), The Character of Science, podcast. 23 June