Jill A. Fisher, Marci D. Cottingham.
Published April 2016 in Public Understanding of Science.
Fictional television shows and films convey cultural assumptions about scientists and the research enterprise. But how do these forms of entertainment portray medical research participants? We sampled 65 television shows and films released between 2004 and 2014 to determine the ways in which medical research and human participants are represented in popular media. We found that research participants are largely represented as White, male, and lower or working class and that 40% of the participants depicted in these fictional accounts were seeking financial compensation, 34% were hoping for a therapeutic benefit, and 15% were coerced into participation. Regardless of participant motivation, media representations tended to portray a negative outcome of medical research. Interpreting the themes in these media, we argue that these fictional portrayals might provide the public with valuable representations of medical research, especially in terms of risks to research participants, scientific failure, and researchers’ conflicts of interest.