Have you watched your television lately?

As I happen to be an impressionable first year student, many of my introductory courses are focused on molding us younglings not only into insightful and profound scientific geniuses, but also on instilling within us a sense of scientific responsibility, particularly when it comes to sharing our work with others. It’s important to be able to convey how freakin’ awesome the research that we do is to people outside of science, which can be really hard when our most exciting result happens to be a string of numbers that popped out of an evil-looking matrix swimming in a sea incomprehensible code.

Most of what we cover in these types of classes is science writing – and there are true gems out there, people with a real talent for sitting down with a biologist who only talks in “ontology” and “heteroscedasticity” and translate all that jargon into an informative, enjoyable piece of literature. You can pick up these pieces in a variety of places – newspapers like The New York Times can have very comprehensive science news articles. Peruse the magazine rack of any book store and, although you may have to dig behind the “Cosmo”, there are popular science magazines covering every disciple under the sun (and beyond!). You’ve already entered the blogosphere, where very passionate people are writing about the discoveries they and others make and the questions, queries, and quandaries still to be explored. Shout out to two of my favorites bloggers – after all of us here at Snapshot Serengeti, of course – Carl Zimmer and Ed Yong, who discourse on all sorts of topics over at National Geographic. And I won’t even start on the wealth of science literature, because I actually do have some stats to run and if I get sucked into this, we’ll be here all night.

I think, however, that one of the most easily accessible types of science dissemination, and the kind likely to reach the further-ranging audience (I know I’m always the only B&N browser with my face in the latest issue of “Scientific American”), is television. Now sure, there is a LOT of bad television out there, I think it goes without saying. Even some purported “educational” channels are going a bit off the deep end (case in point: Animal Planet and their mermaid “documentaries”). But when you’ve just dragged yourself home from a long day in the office and can’t bring yourself to pick up your latest science tome, flip on the tube, find a documentary, and learn a little something.

Particularly for kids and young people, science television is an important inspirational medium. As corny as it sounds, Bill Nye the Science Guy was HIGHLY instrumental in my own scientific development (I still watch an episode every now and again to remind myself that “science rules!”). This type of television shares not only information, but conveys enthusiasm about science, humanizing and breaking down topics which people may have considered beyond their understanding. Speaking of Bill Nye and his science outreach, did people watch his debate with Creationist Ken Ham the other week? It was streamed live by 520,000 people and subsequently downloaded by over a million. Talk about far-reaching, and being picked up by an audience that wasn’t necessarily science-inclined.

Another aspect of science television (and I’m starting to sound a bit like a TV junkie at this point, aren’t I?) that was important to me at least was exposure to fantastic places and creatures. I’m probably not making it to Madagascar anytime soon – are you? But we can learn all about the bizarre and beautiful endemic wildlife, courtesy of everyone’s favorite Sir David Attenborough. I feel like I can practically use ‘Attenborough’ as a synonym for ‘nature documentary’. And remember the sensation when BBC came out with ‘Planet Earth’? Or ‘Life’? Or ‘Human Planet’? You can find them on the channels, you can find them on the internet. Always a winner are the PBS NOVA specials  — be sure to scroll down and check out “Poop-Eating Sloth Moths,” because you know you want to. Also, it’s a neat new discovery about a highly entwined natural system. Would have known otherwise? And when you exhaust all those links, here’s another 300 “mind-expanding” documentaries for your enjoyment: http://www.diygenius.com/mind-expanding-documentaries/

So veg out and watch some science!

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2 responses to “Have you watched your television lately?”

  1. Lifesart says :

    I really wish Bill Nye had been around when I was a kid. As a girl growing up in the fifties, I was not encouraged to think of things scientific. Parents – get your kids exposed to every type of possible career you can imagine!

  2. elfinelvin says :

    Thank you Meredith! I stopped subscribing to cable a few years back. Just not enough there I want to watch when I want to watch it. I’m constantly looking for more sources of documentaries on line. PBS Video is certainly one of the best. Amazon’s instant video has more than I’ll probably ever find. I’m watching a lot more television on the internet than I ever did on cable.

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