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.