Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Science and mass media

Last week I caught the Norwegian popular science TV show "Undring og Mangfald", featuring Professor Gro Vang Amdam. She was talking about adaptive behavior in bees (among other things), and I thought she was doing a really good job. She had obviously prepared herself well, and the host was on hand to ask for a clarification every time she used a complicated word or a term that the general population might be unfamiliar with.

In short, I thought it was an excellent general-interest show about a scientific topic, made in such a way as to appeal to the interested layperson.

Which probably means it's not at all well-suited to raise public interest in science, as getting my approval is akin to preaching to the choir. Besides, I'd get more out of reading her articles anyways.

So my question is; does a show like "Undring og Magnfald" put more asses in the seats (to add some crossover-appeal by using pro wrestling vernacular), or is it simply an outlet for the already converted? Like selling WoW tees at a loser convention? At the end of the day you need to make the decision to tune in to an educational type of show, which adds a significant bias. Unless this is something you're interested in watching, you're not likely to keep your digits off the 'mote. Which isn't a knock on the show at all, merely an observation.

Contrast this to sports, which are shoved down your throat in pretty much all media outlets. During the news, they talk about sports happenings (no matter how minute the event, like Marit Bjørgen threatening to retire following yet another loss) during the "general news" segment, and then again during the "sports" segment. If somewhere on the planet there's a soccer game involving some Norwegian scrubs, then BOOM: a slew of other shows are cancelled due not only to the schnoozefest, 0-0 on overtime extravaganza that is sure to follow, but also the pre-show game detailing the importance of scoring goals, and the experts' predictions, an intermission special with analysis of how while nothing has happened in the game so far, the teams are eager to score, and a post-game analysis detailing how the experts were right despite having failed at all their predictions, how the team that scored the most goals won, and that in soccer everything can happen (except for anything action-oriented). In newspapers, it's pretty much the same thing. Sports - especially soccer - rears its ugly head both in the general news and sports sections - there's no escape. And that's not counting the multitude of sports shows and -channels one would think saturated the market.

Maybe some reality show based on various research groups, where some contestants are voted out each week. The winners get temporary diplomatic immunity and half an hour alone in a room with Sudbø.


Anders said...

Haven't seen the program in question, so I can't comment on that.

But out of curiousity, what do you think of Jørn Hurum and his presentation/ PR-tour of the fossil "Ida"?

Wilhelm said...

I haven't really followed that one closely, but I think that a) it's more geared towards flash than substance, and b) the reactions from the "Man and dinosaurs walked side by side right after God created Earth 6000 years ago" are quite interesting.

Anders said...

But is Hurum the Knut Jørgen Røed Ødegaard of paleontology or does he carry more scientific weight?

Wilhelm said...

That's funny; I made the same comparison myself - dude even has some of the same mannerisms.

However, I'm nowhere near qualified to assess Hurum's academic credentials.

To me he's just some dude who digs bones out of the ground and gets all hot and bothered about it.