Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

I'm so sick of the sensationalism

  1. Apr 28, 2010 #1
    Anytime these t.v. channels like Discovery or History channel want to do a show on cosmology or physics, they spend most of the time talking either about,

    a) how the world will end due to some wacky miracle
    b) speculating about what realms of science fiction could be plausible
    c) stretching the truth about scientific claims and making what are at best "ideas" sound like fact.

    Isn't the universe amazing enough already? Why do we have to plain make things up for science to be interesting? If you'd just present people with the truth as far as we know and understand it, instead of trying you sell your science fiction stories, maybe people would appreciate science more instead of treating it like some religion. These shows do such a terrible disservice to science and I find them all very insulting. In addition, why do they always seem to have the same handful of "scientists" on these shows, who don't seem to really have made any real contributions to science?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2010 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Ratings. It's disgusting.
  4. Apr 28, 2010 #3
    Can you give a specific example? I don't really watch much TV.
  5. Apr 28, 2010 #4
    People like that.

    I find most of those shows distasteful. Some shows like Global Travelers (old show I used to watch 6-8 years ago on Discovery), many on National Geographic are quite good. I don't like much of Discovery Channel or History.

    Edit: I mostly watch shows about different cultures and animals not physics/cosmology if I ever do (last time was few years ago).
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2010
  6. Apr 28, 2010 #5
    Can't beat The Military Channel, and the original programming on The Science Channel (How its made, and the older shows about black holes, the universe, etc) The new "science" shows are so sensationalized (as you said) that they are hard to watch.

    Although it may get people interested in science, and want to find out more about the topics discussed on the show, which is a good thing.
  7. Apr 28, 2010 #6
    That seems like trying to get people interested in going to church by giving away money and cars. (a real example I might add)
  8. Apr 28, 2010 #7
    It more make them crazy hippies than anything else.
  9. Apr 28, 2010 #8
    Well, to be fair, those of us who are doing/have done a PhD in physics (which is what...half of us?) are already treating science as a religion.

    Seriously though, I don't mind all that much. I spend most of my day analyzing gamma ray data from distant galaxies, which is a lot less fun than it sounds. Once in awhile I like to be reminded that what I do is cool.

    Which isn't to say that I don't have any problems with what the History and Discovery Channels are doing. Their Stephen Hawking series isn't so bad, but otherwise they are lacking on experts. They've got journalists and other such people commenting on scientific issues. At least this was the case in a program I watched the other day. As a general rule, I don't think that a person without "Dr." in front of his name should be allowed to make comments on shows about science. Not to be elitist or anything (OK, maybe a little), but the average person just doesn't know enough about quantum mechanics or general relativity to be teach other people about fields that require knowledge of these subjects. I'm fine with a bit of sensationalism, insofar as that merely entails flashy animations and emphases on the areas of astrophysics that would be of interest to the general public. So yes, I understand that people are going to be making shows on gamma ray bursts and black holes, not TeV emission from blazards via inverse Compton processes (or insert your own field of research here). All I ask is that these shows not make scientifically inaccurate statements.
  10. Apr 28, 2010 #9
    The news can't keep their so-called facts straight, so I can't imagine another entertainment venue being any more thoughtful. As with this ghost hunter crap, they're selling what people want, to people who already believe in it. As for quantum physics, your strictures would mean that nothing but math would scroll along the screen. The issue is MISinformation more than vague information. People who can't grasp the material in the first place are not doing harm by being mislead as opposed to being ignorant. People who do grasp the material, but are profoundly stupid enough to believe the Discovery channel or TLC or whatever else should be flipping burgers.

    There are better ways to teach, but they're in it for ratings, not teaching. I think the solution is paying REAL teachers a decent wage, and bolstering education. People shouldn't be learning quantum mechanics of general relativity in 1 hour (45 minutes with commercials) anyway!
  11. Apr 28, 2010 #10
    I'm pretty sure few people turn on the TV to actually *learn*. Most people I know that watch the discovery channel and science shows simply watch the shows to relieve boredom, not because they're looking to become scientifically literate.

    How about when you watch a popular television show, the producer comes up to you explaining "By the way, you can see this is unrealistic because ______".
  12. Apr 29, 2010 #11
    How do you think Man Vs Wild series?

    I like it very much
  13. Apr 29, 2010 #12
    I'll give you an example: If you mention the LHC to somebody, most likely, the only way they'll know what you're talking about is if you say "the thing that makes black holes".
  14. Apr 29, 2010 #13
    I'm yet to meet one medical doctor in 10 who doesn't essentially say the same thing. The ignorance and sensationalism is truly vast, and I don't think people really want to know more. Hell, you start telling them what Hadrons are and you can watch their eyes glaze over.
  15. Apr 29, 2010 #14
    I wish there were shows that went deeper into topics. These science/cosmology shows are nice but most of the information is re-hashed re-edited. I was excited when I heard Steven Hawkings' was doing a series. But even his new series is just the same stuff re-hashed (probably due to production managers). Even some of the CG graphics are re-hashed. Ugh - need a physics channel or something.
  16. Apr 29, 2010 #15
    There's a show called the 'Nostradamus Effect'. Sometimes it's pretty interesting stuff just to sit back and watch. The other day though they had an episode on the 2012 bogus... They were discussing how science is backing up the 2012 theories and they went through all these calender systems on why it's going to happen etc. and never presented any other point of view. Kinda made me mad. I hate when misinformation is intentionally spread in order to

    a)Get better ratings and/or
    b)Influence the gullible in order to create more believers.

    I'm not sure how much it has to do with ratings though. I mean like back when I was a child and every night Discovery channel had a different show on about the mysteries of our universe, I would sit up until the early hours watching it and absorbing everything I could. After discussing with some friends about how this no longer happens I found out virtually ALL of them felt the same way!
    It's probably just that I hang around 'more intelligent' people than the average Joe. I don't see why this would affect spreading misinformation though. I think more people would be interested in seeing science debunk 2012 on a TV show and make people look like fools than there would be people who want to sit and see the truth to the conspiracy theory.

    Maybe I just have to high expectations of humans.

    EDIT: On that show, the 'Nostradamus Effect', you could CLEARLY see where they cut parts of interviews up from scientists. They would say something that seemed to support the idea of 2012 doomsday and you could see and hear them continue to talk but it gets cut out. (I.e. they start saying BUT and it's cut... pretty bad editting job for quote mining IMO)
  17. Apr 29, 2010 #16
    It promotes interest in science. I would confess that the primary reason I found this site is that I was looking up information to either support or debunk what I heard from a crackpot. I used to believe that some nutty stuff was actually quite possible and being interested in the topics I found myself reading up and learning why it was mostly bunk.

    The "average person" unfortunately does not really possess the tools for understanding necessary to see the junk as junk or to seek the knowledge that will show them that it is junk. Fortunately though sensationalist junk that they find entertaining will get them interested and even if they do not seek the tools for understanding that will help them better evaluate such claims they will be more likely to support science and science education which will hopefully eventually lead to more persons being possessed of those tools.

    When I was a kid I played with legos, lincoln logs, and erector sets, none of which led me to really understand much about engineering. I watched Star Trek, Star Wars, Flight of the Navigator, Explorers, and The Black Hole and I learned nothing much about cosmology or astrophysics. I read books upon books about animals and dinosaurs and while I gained a knowledge of several odd factoids I never really learned much about evolution, paleontology, biology, or zoology. Even now I am not a scientist, I do not possess a PhD, and I am not even a college graduate, but I am interested and have found for myself more tools for understanding. I support science and science education and I support Greg's efforts to create a forum for learning and scientific understanding here at PF.

    So I do not think that people ought to be so disheartened about the possible detriments of science fiction and sensationalized science. We're a work in progress.
  18. Apr 29, 2010 #17
    "Isn't the universe amazing already?" - yes, to us scientists, engineers, and nerds who browse this forum. Unfortunetly I think the average joe found science and physics class to be quite boring, and to make these shows marketable (profitable) they need to hype up things like mini black holes that will swallow the earth.

    As an aside I keep seeing commercials on the science channel for some special where stephen hawking will teach me about time travel, aliens, etc. I read on the front page of yahoo.com the other day that during the show he said that we should not contact aliens because they might enslave us/conquer earth similar to what happened to native americans lol.. come on
  19. Apr 29, 2010 #18
    Well yeah, I don't doubt that. But to be fair to the medical doctors, how many physicists know what a myocardial infarction or subdural hematoma is? I don't think the issue in this specific instance is sensationalism. It's just that we're in vastly different fields. If we weren't physicists, is there any reason that we should be able to tell a baryon apart from a meson?

    It's true that most people probably associate the LHC with "black hole machine." This could be solved by propagating important information about what the LHC is and why we're colliding protons together. It's a rather esoteric subject, after all. Heck, I'm in high energy astrophysics, and even I'm not sure what exactly the science goals of the LHC are. Perhaps the best way to disseminate this information is via programs on the History and Discovery channels. And then it would be all the more important for us to filter out all the misinformation.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook