There are some very good TV science shows on these days (e.g. ‘Wonders of the Universe’ and Jim Al-khalili’s ‘Atom’) but there are some that are not so good.
BBC2′s Horizon programme used to be a fantastic science program but more recently it has not been so good. They did one on nanotechnology that was a bit silly because it kept going on about the ‘grey goo’.
I also didn’t like very much the recent ‘Story of Science’ since I thought it was a bit too flashy —too many fast cuts in the editing — though it had quite interesting content.
The trouble with some TV is that too many of the people making the programmes don’t understand science well enough. They are good story tellers and sometimes will tell the story that they think is most interesting rather than the one that is true.
This is a difficult one, because there’s lots of things going on here – TV likes to be really exciting, snappy (of course) and so likes eureka moments – the problem is that science rarely works that way, so we tend to see all the big moments, and not really show what science is like. Having said that there have been some cracking series recently – I loved Brian Cox’s programmes, and Jim Al Khalily was pretty good on chemistry – for a physicist!
Yes I do. I get frustrated when apparently serious science programmes weave an interesting but probably not very realistic human interest story about a scientific discovery, rather than explaining the very interesting facts, ideas and mysteries that lie at the heart of the real science. In the 90s and 00s most science documentaries went this way, but they seem to be getting *much* better now (I think somebody really good, who understands science must have been promoted at the BBC recently).
I am sorry I can’t think of any specific examples of the bad stuff, because if I could I would have no hesitation in naming and shaming them – instead I used to just turn them off, and I know lots of my colleagues who love science just as much as me, felt the same.
I don’t really mind fictional science shows playing fast and loose with science ideas, as these are often very exciting and interesting. I think science fiction actually inspires real world science more often than people realize (for example, people talk about “teleportation” and “invisibility cloaks” in major science journals – these ideas came originally from science fiction, and there are numerous other examples).
Sometimes, I expect popular science shows like Brainiac and Bang Goes the Theory simplify things a little bit, but that doesn’t really trouble me, providing they are not factually inaccurate.
OK Ben wrote about this on his blog. I’m sure he won’t mind me telling you what he wrote there. It is about the film 2012:
The premise is that during a period of extreme solar activity particles called Neutrinos somehow mutate from interacting extremely rarely to very strongly with the Earth. The billions of Neutrinos from the Sun interacting with the core of the Earth causes it to heat and consequently the Earths crust to split and crack.
* Neutrinos DO exist; they make up a quarter of Natures indivisible building blocks/particles
* They ARE created in huge quantities in the Sun; in nuclear fusion reactions.
* They indeed INTERACT very rarely with other normal matter; which makes up the Earth as well as you and me and the entire visible Universe.
* They will NEVER mutate in the way suggested in 2012.
I remember at the time it made him really mad!
Also recently the da vinci code sequel was a bit annoying as they carried little vials of antimatter which was totally fake. You can’t carry antimatter around and we haven’t made that much on the Earth at places like CERN.
Also flash forward had loads of bad science in it – did you see that? They talked a lot about tachyons which are not proven particles
Apparently neutrinos mutated during a solar maximum and started to interact much more strongly with matter (in other words everything we can see around us) . This supposedly heated up just the Earths core and caused the Earths crust (the solid bit on top of the molten liquid rock, called magma) to split up.
Firstly Neutrinos will never change the way they interact with matter. They have to hit a proton or neutron in the nucleus of an atom square on. And considering well over 99.9% of an atom is empty space, this doesn’t happen too often! This will NEVER change.
Secondly, if they did some how mutate then the 100′s of billions raining down on us (or up on us if it is night when you are reading this) from the Sun would incinerate everything on the surface of the Earth before heating up the core.
But as I say, great special effects – especially on my new 32″ LED HD TV
I partly asked this question because my brother is a massive fan of science-fiction and is part convinced that daleks and lightsabres are real.
I hate it when they make up science as well: What does “reversing the polarity” even mean??!