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Discovery Channel Science??? January 27, 2010

Posted by regan222 in Educational Ranting.
I think one of the worst things to happen to education in America has been the rise in popularity of so called educational TV, in particular, the Discovery Channel.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the Myth Busters as much as anyone.  I watch them faithfully but we have to remember that the primary purpose of TV programming is to sell advertising to make money for stock holders.  Pure science does not sell toilet paper!  Good TV sells products.  Good TV is sensational, flashy, loud, and easy to understand across a broad demographic.  That demographic ranges in IQ from Joe Average American all the way down to Protista and pond scum.  Discovery Channel, in order to sell more toilet paper (or any other product for that matter) is willing to take some very fast and loose short cuts and cut some very important corners with what America perceives as the truth.  An honest and ethical scientist would rather admit that Al Gore invented the Internet than to give an absolute answer on any issue or question.  The honest and ethical scientist’s vocabulary is filled with words and phrases like "as far as we can tell", or "based upon our observations", or even "the evidence suggests that…"  An honest and ethical scientist does not give a definite yes or no because he knows that the methodology he uses to draw conclusions is based upon observation and weighing evidence and that even the most accepted theories are subject to change if the evidence changes.
100 years ago "scientists" (not churchmen but secular scientists) were convinced that life could spontaneously generate from rotting meat.  Based on observation and gathering evidence, one brave soul (Louis Pasteur) disagreed.  He was not well received for his opinions.  It took time and effort to bring the scientific community around and I am sure that some grumpy curmudgeons went to their grave happy in the knowlege that THEY never surrendered Aristotle’s ideas to that new fangled nonsense.  The point is, we were SURE that we had the correct answer until a new theory came along and then we changed our ideas to match the evidence.  Not so many years ago we were SURE that Newton (Isaac, not Fig) was correct in his assumption that an object at rest remained so until acted upon by an outside force.  Imagine our surprise when we found that some paired particles, seperated across a great distance, could change their translational state based solely upon what the other particle did even though they were no longer connected.  J.S Bell’s Theorem makes for interesting reading (if you are capable of it)  The point being, Newton and Einstein break down in the face of quantum mechanics.  We were so SURE that we had the absolute answer and now we are having to reasses.  What does this have to do with the Discovery Channel you ask? (and you are correct to do so)  An honest and ethical scientist bases his (or her) response to a question on evidence and observation.  The Discovery Channel does not.  They base their answers on what their marketers tell them will produce the largest market share.  Sensationalism, conflict, and controversy, presented as absolute truth, and illustrated with snappy 3d animations, are what moves the Charmin off the shelves.
Recently I watched a program (recommended by many educational pundits in America) that presented dinosaurs as large feathery warm blooded animals.  What I saw looked like Godzilla had mated with a feather boa.  It was 50 ft tall and covered in yellow and purple ostrich plumes.  (I kid you not…I saw the real exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Phoenix.)  This sort of thing is presented as fact, without any qualification or caveat, to millions of people on cable.  The original fossil evidence for this discovery was a handful of small bones and teeth that could have come from anything.  I am still not sure where they get the feathers and I KNOW they can’t tell if the thing was purple and yellow.  Yet there it was, right on the big screen, and somewhere in the middle of that demographic is a huge number of people who said "Ya know Marge, I always knew them things had purple and yellow feathers.  Why they even said so on the Discovery Channel.  It must be the truth".  Another recent offering presented the possible outcome of evolution as animals of the future.  They offered up 3d animations of things that have no possible connection with reality and presented it, if not as fact, then at least as hard science, no caveat or qualification necessary. <continued in tomorrow’s rant>


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