And he is dismayed at the absence of science. Charles Darwin’s blog reviews a week’s worth of programming, and finds a near total lack of any kind of science. The one exception, sort of, are the police procedurals.
Not a single factual science programme on any of the channels available to everyone who has a television. However in the dramatic presentations it is clear what science is for: it is to help the police elucidate which American has killed which other American. It is also clear who becomes a scientist: people of eccentric appearance and manner with peculiarly arranged hair. They inhabit extremely modern, uncluttered and strangely lit laboratories, there is usually only one of them and he or she possesses an extraordinary range of scientific specialities and skills. They are sessile, but propel themselves on chairs which swivel and have small wheels, often making verbal ejaculations as they do.
It’s a growing genre, I fear: there are all these shows like Bones and the multitude of CSI spinoffs that portray this utterly bogus version of science as an enterprise that is all exceptionally well-funded, laden with glittering chrome and well-coifed and made up people, and everything is directly results-driven: like Chuck says, it’s all about catching the bad guy. It’s also very magical, that the wizards of the crime lab push a few buttons and get The Answer with impossible speed, and everyone bows down and accepts the authority of these faux scientists.
It’s a peeve of mine, too, so I’m pleased to see that Darwin and I share an opinion.
The question now is about how to get Hollywood and the television industry to portray science both accurately and as an intrinsically interesting process. Too often the media veer between two equally false portrayals: it’s either 1) a talking head reciting formulas at a camera, or 2) that boring science stuff is jettisoned for soap operas and crime set in a lab. At least the nature programs come a little closer to the idea, but even there they rarely couple the charismatic animals behaving wildly with the science that the observers are trying to work out.