Good Science on TV

The Oscar for Best Science Programme

The Oscar for Best Science Programme

I have been fast enough to criticise poor science programming in the past, so I feel obliged to praise good programming when I see it. And I would just like to call out four very different examples of science programmes, all of which I feel succeed. And so the nominations for the Oscar for Best Science Programme are:

 Inside The Human Body is a 4-part series about the human body. It has a presenter (Michael Mosley) who is eloquent, opinionated, clearly flawed in many ways, and obviously knowledgeable. Each programme simplifies the story, focussing on perhaps 5 key themes in the one hour slot. Repetition of graphical material is subtle, leaving one feeling grateful rather than bored., and live material often focuses on named individuals and borders on the prurient, but generally stays focussed on the topic at hand. And centrally it is gloriously enthusiastic about all that being human involves.

Bang Goes the Theory  is a 30-minute popular science magazine programme shown at 7:30 p.m. on BBC1. It is hosted  by a pretty boy, a pretty girl, an apparent geek and the genius Jem Stansfield who is the actual star of the show. If you asked my children they would tell you that I shout at the TV during these shows, but the truth is: this programme is not made for me! And I admire its ability to present real scientific topics in prime time  and still make it to series 2 – and now series 4!

Science on Science is a new magazine programme on Discovery Science and so is under considerably less pressure to keep an audience than Bang Goes The Theory. The hour is divided into typically four segments which are narrated but we never see the narrator. The characters are the scientists and engineers who present their own work through the frosted glass that is the modern style of  television presentation. Seeing the actual scientists and engineers brings this programme alive and makes it more ‘real’ than many of the presenter focussed shows.

Mythbusters is now in its gallizionth series and has gone global. The two presenters Adam and Jamie were special effects designers before creating this programme, and they use their very practical skills and scientific intuition to design and build experiments to test urban myths.

  • Goldfinger Movie Myth: Do you suffocate if painted all over in gold paint? Glorious Jamie was painted and – with paramedics attending – he did not suffer at all.
  • Poppyseed drugs test myth: Do you test positive for heroin if you eat a poppyseed muffin? Amazingly, you do!
  • Cement Mixer Myth: Can you use dynamite to clean out the inside of a cement mixer in which the cement has solidified? No, not without evaporating the cement mixer.
From a scientifically pedagogical point of view, this programme is flawed because they rarely make any calculations. But in televisual terms, this programme is golddust and encapsulates the joy and pleasure and occasional pain of experimental science. It is just great TV.

And the winner is… we all are. These programmes all make you want to stop watching and … well DO something. These programmes all bring the genuine joy of discovery and understanding into people’s lives, and for this I am genuinely grateful to them all.

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