13 January, 2010

Failings of Popular Science Programming

Oy.  Stupid weather.  The jet stream's developed a kink - actually, several kinks - which is freezing the balls off of the southeast whilst making Seattle unseasonably warm.  Warm is nice - except it's deceived something into getting enthusiastic, and hence I've been suffering from a prolonged, very annoying asthma attack that I usually only have to deal with in the spring.  I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If I take medication so I can breathe, I'm too hyped up to sleep.  If I don't take meds, I can't sleep because I can't breathe comfortably.  It's enough to make me almost long for snow.

Since my sleep-deprived brain isn't cut out for any serious work just now, I've been cleaning the geology programs out of the DVR.  It's almost as annoying as the asthma.  When you watch a lot of these in a row, the silly tendencies to over-dramatize really start to grate.

All programs seem to suffer from the following three failings, no matter what channel they're on:

1.  Everything's presented as a crisis.  If they can't hype up the past crises (ZOMG, teh Permian Extinction!!1!11!), they hype future crises (ZOMG, 250 million years from now WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!11!1!! maybe).  Even minor stuff is overblown - in the program I just watched, the future erosion of the Rockies into nothing more than hills was presented as some terrible possible future tragedy, rather than the inevitable consequence of pedestrian forces of erosion.  Sorry, folks.  All mountains are gonna die.  Well-known geological fact.  Geez.

2.  Everything's a mystery, even stuff that isn't mysterious at all.  "Mysterious" forces cause this, and "mysterious" forces cause that.  If there's no mystery these days, well, they just travel back to the early days in geology when things did seem rather mysterious.  When you're so far gone that you're talking about how "mysterious" it is that a cliff is eroding, you're a little too addicted to mystery, there.

3.  They fuck up perfectly easy stuff that anyone with a high school science education should get right.  Such as, you don't radiocarbon date granite to 25 million years old. 

Why can't we just have reasonably accurate science programming that relies on the innate power and drama of science rather than manufacturing melodrama?  And why can't these shows hire some schmo sort of well-versed in scientific matters from the lay-person's perspective to catch the errors that aren't just glaring, but veritably scowling while slapping baseball bats into their palms?  Shit, folks, you could pay me $20 an episode for those services.  At least you'd never be caught fucking up radiocarbon dating again.

Here endeth the rant.  And for those who are about to ask me why I bother, it's for the visuals and the factoids.  Such as, ammonites the size of truck tires littering the Rocky Mountains.  There's enough worthwhile stuff to be going on with.  And it's just the sort of thing that a poor sleep-deprived brain can wrap itself around.

1 comment:

Karen said...

I, too, watch the geology programs for the visuals. Because of my asthma, these are places I'm probably never going to visit, and they've invariably caught them in just the right light to show them off at their best. But the science? Bah!