Science and Society

Science "programming"

Or should that be “science” programming?

I just saw this wonderful graphic showing how science is treated by some of the major TV networks - y’know, National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, The History Channel and the ‘Science’ channel.

via PhD comics*

Sigh.  Quite.  I suppose we should be grateful that there’s at least _something_ vaguely science-related in there, but I still wanna put my big stompy science-related boots firmly on someone’s backside for the sheer venality of much of this content.  News flash, programme people - PEOPLE LIKE TO BE EDUCATED. YOU CAN DO EET.

Anecdote - my father recently popped me an email to the effect that ‘I thought there weren’t any dangerous animals in NZ?!’.  He’d seen an ad, on the Discovery Channel, for some completely-not-sensationalised-looking programme called River Monsters and in particular, an episode on longfin eels.  Apparently, Brave Guy Presenter wades bravely into the water and bravely sees whether he will bravely emerge in one piece or in tatters.

At this juncture, after I’d carefully wiped up the coffee I’d sprayed across my desk (in pure horror, I might add, not terror), I went and had a look at the Te Ara entry on longfin eels, just to check.  After all, living here, I’m sure I’d have heard if they were a Menace!  You will notice, nowhere, accounts of them ripping grown men limb from limb. Bites are, it would seem, unusual. (Fun fact - they’re actually an important species here, but more on that in an upcoming blog post)

Now, I see why programmes descend into this sort of sensationalism, but I also think it’s unnecessary - the amazing organisms and events are generally able to carry their own weight, and the constant shouting, excitement, posturing and hoohaa generated by the programmes’ hosts and editors etc in fact detract.  It’s why we love David Attenborough and the BBC so much.  And why, at least in my case, I cannot stomach the other sorts of programmes at all.

UPDATE: A new Symphony of Science is out, and it features ol’ Dave himself!



On another, but related note.  That image that I just shared?  Under the draconian SOPA** (Stop Online Piracy Act) law which some…people…are trying to get passed in the United States, I could have my entire blog removed, in effect, from the internet simply for posting that image.

As Vikram Kumar of Internet NZ explains:

The Acts would enable the US Government and Intellectual Property holders to force US ISPs to block “rogue” websites; stop services to them (advertising, and payment processing); and prevent search providers (like Google) displaying links to them. All that would be required would be for someone to contact the relevant US authorities to say that the image had been ‘stolen’ (i.e. was under copyright, without a license for redistribution under something like Creative Commons), and my website would summarily disappear.

As currently written, SOPA requires court orders while PROTECT IP doesn’t. Both focus on Internet intermediaries based in the USA to target and block non-US websites.

Much of the criticism about these Acts are around the low barriers to shut down websites without due process based on allegations alone; the disproportionate response; and the way “rogue” websites are blocked. Also, the inflated and made-up Intellectual Property losses due to the Internet trotted out by Hollywood and others that we are familiar with in New Zealand and around the world.

I could decide whether to engage in a ruinous battle with US lawyers, or to try and reigster the site somewhere else, or…you get my drift.

And this could apply to ANY site.  Sound scary? Read the rest of Vikram’s article, explaining why even us Kiwis should be worried.  And Jan 18th marks the day that worldwide protests begin.  You can take part.  Wikipedia, reddit and boing boig, for example, are going dark to protest these Acts - after all, they will ‘break the internet’.  And here and here are some resources for if you, too, would like to register your disapproval.

I know I have.

Wikipedia‘s protest

Boing Boing‘s protest

Reddit‘s protest

OpenDNS‘s protest

Mozilla and a number of other large online services are also protesting (WordPress, TwitPic, MoveOn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Scribd) too!


*HT to Sheril Kirschenbaum, of Culture of Science, for posting this on Google+.

** And PIPA.  Don’t forget PIPA, too - It stands for PROTECT IP Act, or Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act

  • david winter

    What the what… “man eating eel”. That’s the dumbest thing…

    As you say, there’s a lot of reasons to talk about these eels (migrations, value to iwi, overfishing, water abstraction…) but making them into killers is not one of them!

  • aimee whitcroft

    I’d like to add that I’ve not SEEN the programme in question, and that it may turn out to be very even-handed. But that’s not the point - the advertising /framing alone is objectionable.

  • Darcy Cowan

    On a related Science on TV note:
    I heard via the scientific american podacst the Sesame Street is focusing more on STEM topics and experiments etc.
    But no-one seems to provide the unaltered episodes anywhere, and the only available outlet on NZ tv seems to be several seasons behind.

    If anyone knows how I can get hold of these episodes I will be VERY grateful as they sound awesome.

  • MikeM

    Now I know what I need when I go into the wilderness — a SOUNDTRACK!

  • kemo sabe

    I wouldn’t be too quick to toast David Attenborough. I thought his response to the polar bear birthing scandal was very poor: “We’re making movies here, you know…”
    The photography on his programmes is very nice but how much of it is genuine?

    • aimee whitcroft

      Decades and decades of programming, and being one of the major forces behind bringing wonderful nature programming to television, and you’re going to go after him for one response, to one incident? I think that’s a bit unfair. And also, while it wasn’t the least disingenuous moment, they hadn’t actually SAID that it was being filmed in the wild, if I recall (i.e. they didn’t lie), and they had good reasons for doing it the way they did.

      Also, seriously? It’s pretty easy to see that their stuff is generally filmed on location. Some of which can take months on site for a single shot.