The Onion on Science Programming

Yes, it’s very funny*, and awfully close to the truth as well, at least in terms of the final product. More seriously, it is worth noting that what they get wrong is the blaming of it on audiences. It is actually more about the channels (not just the Science Channel) themselves and the sort of business models they run. We, the scientists who care to, must carry on contributing where we can as well as encouraging and supporting the film-makers as much as we can. It’s not really their fault so much as the people who call the shots at the head of the money food chain. Most of the film-makers I’ve worked with on the many shows I’ve helped with (either in front of or behind the camera, or both) are passionate about the science, are keenly interested in understanding it more so as to tell the story to the public as well as they can, and are capable of doing so. They most often can’t get their shows past the people at the top who believe that the material is too inaccessible or not interesting to the public. (I’ve heard the same complaint from science journalists working in the print media too.) On the other hand, I get recognized and stopped on the street (bus, subway, grocery store, car wash…) almost weekly (when in the US) by so many people on a regular basis (must do a post on this later) telling of how much they love the shows, watch them regularly, and want more. We need to continue to make the case that there is a strong audience out there, and for good content, not “dumbed-down” material. See earlier posts on this issue for more thoughts. (Look under categories like science and society, science education, television, etc, and the “Tales….” series here….)

Anyway, enjoy the Onion article. My favourite line is the quote:

As evidence of their refusal to further water down programming, network sources pointed to a number of proposed shows they’ve abandoned in recent weeks, including an animal-based bungee-jumping program called Extreme Gravity, and Atom Smashers, a series that was was roundly rejected by focus groups as being “too technical” and “not awesome enough.”

“People liked that the particle accelerators were really huge, but apparently the show didn’t have enough smashing to hold their interest,” said a former employee who wished to remain anonymous. “In the end, it was either add a huge monster truck for no reason whatsoever or pull the plug on the entire project. Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to face my wife and children had we gone through with it.”

Or perhaps:

“I don’t like it when the science people talk about things no one can even understand,” said Rich Parker, an Ohio resident. “It’s like, just quit your yapping and dip the chain saw into the liquid nitrogen already.”



*Thanks Darryl!

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