TV Science

  • #1
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,842
992
an observation on TV science...

I have learned that if one is selective about their viewing, and with a little discrimination and googling, much good information, mostly news really, can be found on some TV science channels; or at least, on some programs, on some channels. One of the weaknesses of this medium as an information source seems to lie in time and money. For example, consider the Mallet Time machine proposal. Even though, AFAIK, it has been shown that Mallet made a false assumption and applied the wrong solution method, which in turn led to his time machine concept, which invalidates his proposal, and presumably his work, The Science Channel is running an outdated program about Mallet - The Worlds First Time Machine. When it was made the program was hyped but reasonably accurate.

The trouble is that they explicitly tout Mallet as the Father of time, and they more or less present him as the next Einstein. Lesser informed viewers are none the wiser, and someone who may really be second rate, Mallet, is turned into a hero. Of course, they shouldn't have hyped this in the first place. Some context would have gone a long way but they didn't choose to provide much context.

Then, seemingly, the investment in the program demands that it run many times for many years, in spite of the fact that the thesis of the program may have since been shown as false. I have seen PBS run disclaimers for problems like this, but I don't think I have ever seen such a disclaimer on any other channels.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Bystander
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Gold Member
5,279
1,337
Ivan Seeking said:
an observation on TV science...

(snip)I have seen PBS run disclaimers for problems like this, but I don't think I have ever seen such a disclaimer on any other channels.

There're "generic" disclaimers that flicker off and on in the station breaks --- not consistently, and I couldn't tell you whether they're at the beginning or tag ends of breaks, or broadcast in all breaks --- there are also probably exposure times set by local cabel outlets. There are definitely longer exposures for the likes of Graham Hanquack, Area 51 shows, 15ka Sphinx, and other hand-waving quackery on TLC, Discovery, History --- Animal Planet and the "squid hunts?" Don't recall such. AP and the Yeti/Sasquatch/Jersey Devil hunts --- couldn't say because I've lost interest long before the first break on these bombs.
 
  • #3
matthyaouw
Gold Member
1,171
5
Scientists write papers in the persuit of truth.
Producers write scripts in the persuit of ratings.
Somewhere along the line, a compromise must be made.

Tv producers need to produce entertainment, and in the persuit of this, perhaps the quality of the information suffers along the way. Programs like that are often over dramatised to draw in the viewers, and I saw a prime example of this just a few days ago. I was watching a program about the evolution of dinosaurs, and they talked about one contibuting factor being the breakup of Pangea and the opening of the Atlantic. Cue a computer generated scene showing a massive rift forming between South America and Africa. The continents were torn apart, leaving dramatic bare cliff faces with all manner of boulders cascading down the side. A vast wave of water then engulfs this newly formed canyon, forming the Atlantic ocean. The majority of educated persons should easily spot the most major flaw in this impressive 30 second sequence, but I was left wondering just how many people not so clued up on crustal evolution now believe that is how it happened.
 
  • #4
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,842
992
Then there is another level to this; irony. Bad TV science can inspire good, real science. For example, I have lost count of how many accomplished scientists have cited Star Trek as a significant motivator that led to their career path. We even have a shuttle named Enterprise - named in honor of Star Trek and its creator, Gene Roddenberry. In a similar vein, how many real scientists grew up reading all sorts of science nonsense in the form of science fiction and comics. So, might bad TV science lead to the next great discovery by inspiring a young genius? I can't help but wonder...

Of course, I would prefer that TV science was reliable, credible, and current.
 
  • #5
selfAdjoint
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
Dearly Missed
6,852
10
Ivan, science fiction is not necessarily nonsense science in the new age meaning of the term. Even on TV, such shows as StarGate 1 have science advisors and try to be at least not utterly stupid, while the gee whiz folks have no such constraints.

While I'm on SG1 I want to express one beef: they show the mouth of a wormhole (their signature image) as a disk. It would be a sphere, like one of those garden reflecting spheres. Pictures in pop science show a disk because they have suppressed one dimension to make a clear image.
 
  • #6
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,842
992
I may not know exactly what you mean by new age science. If you mean charlatans, well, they've always been around. Its a problem. My meaning of nonsense in this context was that to a person who doesn't already know some, or even quite bit of physics, it is impossible to tell where the line between known reality and fiction is drawn. I know that as I went through physics, there were things that I had thought are or will be possible, but instead I learned that they may one day be possible at best, and barely that. Sci Fi certainly raised my expectations to unreasonable levels - speaking now as cynical old fart. :biggrin: But again and again I hear from accomplished scientists that this is a good thing. So maybe it doesn't matter so much exactly how the next genius is inspired to prove everyone wrong. A little physics homework will drag him or her back to earth quickly enough - kicking and screaming all the way, I hope.
 
  • #7
Chronos
Science Advisor
Gold Member
11,429
744
I like the 'shock and awe' approach. It stimulates developing minds. Of course they later become disillusioned when they find out just how hard it is to pull off a 'shock and awe'. You can't have too many ideas. More brains = more ideas. A few will survive. Some will give up in frustration and become attorneys, accountants or engineers. Others will ingest near lethal quantities of psychotropic substances and become politicians, reporters, or talk show hosts.
 
  • #8
matthyaouw
Gold Member
1,171
5
Ivan Seeking said:
Then there is another level to this; irony. Bad TV science can inspire good, real science. For example, I have lost count of how many accomplished scientists have cited Star Trek as a significant motivator that led to their career path.

You have a point, but I think there is a bit of a difference here. When I watch Star Trek (yes, I admit to being a bit of a Trekkie at times) I expect to see fiction. Real science would be something of a bonus here, and I don't expect to be enlightened after an episode. When I watch a documentary on the other hand, I'm more inclined to take the ideas presented at face value, and trust the words of the scientists speaking, and I expect to see a valid theory backed up with some solid evidence. Star Trek never claimed to be fact, and never intended people to believe it, where as the science programs do.
 
  • #9
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,842
992
matthyaouw said:
You have a point, but I think there is a bit of a difference here. When I watch Star Trek (yes, I admit to being a bit of a Trekkie at times) I expect to see fiction. Real science would be something of a bonus here, and I don't expect to be enlightened after an episode. When I watch a documentary on the other hand, I'm more inclined to take the ideas presented at face value, and trust the words of the scientists speaking, and I expect to see a valid theory backed up with some solid evidence. Star Trek never claimed to be fact, and never intended people to believe it, where as the science programs do.

Agreed; in principle we all know that there's a difference. I was thinking about this as I typed the last post. First, keep in mind that I'm not arguing FOR bad TV science, but we get what we get. I'm just considering the implications. It seems to me that based on my own experience, and based on what I have seen in others, Sci Fi still raises expectations to unreasonable levels. Also, many kids know that some of Sci Fi is real science, but they don't really know what's real and whats not. So it seems to have an affect similar to that of bad science. Basically my thinking goes along with that of Chronos. The shock value of radically new ideas may be the key.
 
  • #10
56
0
i used to watch discovery and tlc all the time, but now its all crappy shows about decorating your house or how neat motorcycles are. these show are just so stupid i dont know what happened to the good old days when there were actually shows about astronomy and physics related subjects. now its all reality and crap :(
 
  • #11
Chronos
Science Advisor
Gold Member
11,429
744
It is a shame about discovery channel. I used to watch it more than any other channel until programming went over to the dark side. It's mostly redneck and soccer mom stuff now. Too bad there isn't more 'Wild Kingdom' content. I have many fond memories of Marlon Perkins saying stuff like "Hey Jim! Wade out there and drag that 24 foot anaconda up here on the bank so we can get some footage."
 
  • #12
Ivan Seeking
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
7,842
992
Chronos said:
I have many fond memories of Marlon Perkins saying stuff like "Hey Jim! Wade out there and drag that 24 foot anaconda up here on the bank so we can get some footage."

You have hit on my all time favorite example of a master of understatement. That was classic stuff! As a kid I would think, man, this guy Perkins a real dip! Later when I got it, I loved it!!! :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
 
  • #13
matthyaouw
Gold Member
1,171
5
Ivan & Chronos- you both make good points.

Speaking of wrestling killer reptiles, has anyone ever watched Steve Irwin? There doesn't seem to be an episode go by where he isn't attacked by at least one bitey toothy thing.
 
  • #14
Chronos
Science Advisor
Gold Member
11,429
744
Yer killing me, Ivan :rofl: . Monty Python stole the name for the show from that episode of 'Wild Kingdom' [MP = Marlon Perkins]... and you thought I was incapable of entertaining the notion any conspiracy theory might have a factual basis ...
 

Related Threads on TV Science

  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
9
Views
3K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
36
Views
4K
Replies
1
Views
2K
  • Last Post
2
Replies
44
Views
9K
  • Last Post
Replies
20
Views
5K
  • Last Post
3
Replies
54
Views
6K
  • Last Post
Replies
14
Views
2K
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
6K
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
4K
Top