The Cosmos and the Earth: Content and Quality of Environmental Risk Communication in Cosmos (1980) and Cosmos (2014)
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Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) and the remake Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (2014) have sparked widespread public interest in science and educated viewers about science. Both series cover many scientific topics, including the environment. Because of their large viewership, the series have the potential to influence public awareness about environmental issues, and by using best practices, Cosmos could also potentially incite action to mitigate environmental risk. This study posed two research questions: (1) Do the topics and themes related to environmental risk differ between the two Cosmos series? If so, in what way(s)? (2) How do the environmental risk communication strategies used in the two Cosmos series compare to best practices for inspiring appropriate action among viewers? This study used content analysis to determine differences between the two Cosmos series in the topics, frames, approaches, images, and visual language, such as metaphors. There was an overall increase in environmental risk content from Cosmos (1980) to Cosmos (2014). The most mentioned environmental topics in Cosmos (1980) were “Pollution,” “Nuclear,” “Climate Change,” and “Greenhouse Gas/CO2”; in Cosmos (2014) they were “Energy,” “Pollution,” “Greenhouse Gas/CO2,” and “Climate Change.” In Cosmos (2014), “Climate Change/Global Warming,” “Greenhouse Gas/CO2,” and “Energy” often appeared together, solidifying the association between these topics. Additionally, framing of content shifted from “Disaster” and “Security” in Cosmos (1980) to “Opportunity” Cosmos (2014). Both series used similar approaches; however, Cosmos (1980) more often used the approach of “Presenting a negative alternative reality/Warning” whereas Cosmos (2014) used more “Storytelling.” Both Cosmos series relied heavily on visual images and comparative language, such as analogies and metaphors. Cosmos (2014) more often used strategies recommended by scholars as being effective for inciting environmental action than Cosmos (1980). Specifically this was evident in the increase in environmental risk content, narratives, “Health” and “Opportunity” frames, and associations between related topics as well as the decrease in “Disaster” frames and “Presenting a negative alternative reality/Warning,” Although differences exist between the series, they both seem to communicate environmental risk in ways that are interesting and relevant to the public.
Carney, Sara Elizabeth (2016). The Cosmos and the Earth: Content and Quality of Environmental Risk Communication in Cosmos (1980) and Cosmos (2014). Master's thesis, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from