03-03-10 - Science on TV

The state of science on TV is absolutely shameful. I find it really inspiring and energizing to watch a bit of mild science, and of course I don't expect them to actually be rigorous, but it seems they can't even manage to be correct.

Nova has gotten mostly unwatchable. Maybe this is part of the generally destruction of PBS by the Republican Machine, which includes the enforcement of "balanced" opinion, and the broadcast of corporate shill self-help bullshit like Suze Orman In my youth I vaguely remember watching Nova and seeing real interesting science. Now it seems like every Nova is some fucking archaeologist recontructing something from history, like building some fucking boat or a catapult or whatever. While that is vaguely amusing, it's completely non-scientific, it doesn't prove anything (archaeologists seem to be almost all quacks), and it belongs on Mythbusters not Nova. (there is a good Nova once in a while still, I recall liking the Quest for Absolute Zero okay).

ScienceNow with Neil "look at me I'm a black scientist" DeGrass Tyson is equally unwatchable. It was vaguely watchable when it had Alan Alda, mainly because he didn't pretend to know anything about science, and they seemed to cover more technology developments which they're better at.

We tried to watch "Parallel Lives, Parallel Worlds" , which is vague about Hugh Everett and the Many Worlds interpretation, but mostly about some whiney emo singing douchebag who can't do math. I turned this off in disgust after about 20 minutes because even in the rare moments when they actually talked about real quantum mechanics, they were not only overly simplistic, but very often just wrong. This is a really interesting topic, and you could do a really good show about the outsider quacks who challenged the foundations of quantum mechanics, you could talk about EPR, Everett, and David Deutsch is a great character too.

A common flaw in almost every science program is to over-dramatize developments and conflicts in science. The shows like to present new findings as "shaking the foundations of everything that came before" and such nonsense, which almost never actually the case.

The most recent offender in that regard is BBC's Secret Life of Chaos. It basically consists of showing some pretty pictures and then the bald buffoon comes on and says outrageous nonsense things like "and this tore down the fabric of Newtonian physics". Umm, no, not really, no it didn't. (A decent story of reaction-diffusion and morphogenesis is here or here )

In other pseudo-science news : we've been watching BBC's nature series "Life" , "Wild China" , and now "Yellowstone" ; all amazing, but they're fucking FAKE ! They stage shots, they use studio footage and split it into location shots, they feed predators to get kill shots, it's just all fake. You can't trust a single shot they show. It's just a bunch of pretty pictures. ( They also use filters and other adjustments; for example in the Yellowstone video they show you the classic beauty shot of Grand Prismatic Spring which has obviously been saturation-pumped ; in real life it looks like : this . )

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