HHMI to produce TV science films

| 20 Comments

Two weeks ago Sean B. Carroll, evo-devo researcher, author, and new Vice President for Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, visited Kenyon College where I used to profess. Our dinner conversation touched on the recent Freshwater fiasco in the local public schools, and the Q&A following his talk about Darwin, Wallace, and Bates (based on his book Into The Jungle) turned to the sorry state of general science knowledge in the U.S. I pressed him about it, asking whether in his new role with HHMI he proposed to do anything about it. His answer was “Wait for a press release on February 4.” Well, that press release is out now. It promises that HHMI will commit $60m “… to bring high-quality, compelling science features to television.”

Carroll has high aspirations for the project:

The HHMI film division’s first priority will be to tell intriguing science stories that will grab the viewer, Carroll says. They will cover all areas of science, especially biology and medicine, but will go beyond the work of HHMI’s own researchers.

And then there’s this laudable goal:

Although Carroll has not identified specific film topics at this time, he says that most scientists and science educators agree that the public would benefit from access to engaging materials that would provide better insight into how science works, how evidence is weighed and tested, and how conclusions are reached. “We want the public to understand the process of science and gain an appreciation for it so they can trust its results and use them in their daily lives,” he says.

The project will include tie-ins to public education:

The subjects will be chosen based on their potential to become a compelling story, but HHMI’s staff–primarily its Educational Resources Group–will work hand-in-hand with the executive producer and filmmakers to repackage the film footage into materials that can be used by teachers and students at both the high school and college level.

Carroll is an engaging speaker and an enthusiastic proponent of science education at all levels. I hope that same sense of engagement and enthusiasm will be instantiated in the proposed films but that they do not devolve into gee-whizzery.

20 Comments

It is good to hear that there is an important new player in the science documentary game, and one with some money to spend.

But perhaps this is a place to air some grievances about the current crop of documentaries. Too often, on Nova, we see a documentary of this sort: we are shown a group of scientists who are struggling in an exotic location to get some equipment in place to measure something. The Something is very important, and we’ll tell you about it in one or two sentences. But first let’s concentrate on these facts:

* The location is very dangerous, difficult, and scenic. (Scientific principles only operate in dramatic locations, apparently, and not in your back yard).

* They are running out of time and out of money.

* A hurricane or blizzard is closing in.

* The equipment is malfunctioning.

* The scientists on the team hate each other.

* Isn’t science exciting?

A good example of failure to convey science in a science documentary was a Nova episode a couple of years ago on the origin of angiosperms. There was a genuinely important fossil being discussed, but that could only carry about half of the show. So for the rest of the show they showed a scientist in mountains in southwestern China investigating flowers there. There were flowers there that were very pretty, in beautiful mountain scenery. The flowers were close relatives of the common garden varieties that we all know.

Well, actually, the scientist was just photographing the flowers, because he wasn’t really a scientist, he was a natural history photographer. And somehow they never got around to saying what the scientific question was that he was investigating. Because he wasn’t investigating anything.

And that is about all the science we get.

I think that Nova generally does a good job. (I’m not a scientist but love science.) They do take some artistic license in promoting the show but that’s to be expected. They do have to attract an audience!

Anyway, I’m very excited to hear about the new HHMI venture. They do a great job with their holiday lectures.

You mean someone wants to compete with the BBC for the North American science documentary market?

This YEC loves NOVA. i like most of the subjects and the entertainment of them. I loved the Missoula flood one and many others. think they are very well done. Only BBC has like quality. If there are a few which fail to have to have something to talk about well par for the cource. They do need to entertain to gain a public that they want. Nova can’t be about minor things. I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points. No better American show for subjects like these. Could give Creationism at least once a fair shake. Yet the more publicity creationism gets the more gain it gets. I think they know that.

Robert Byers said:

This YEC loves NOVA. i like most of the subjects and the entertainment of them. I loved the Missoula flood one and many others. think they are very well done. Only BBC has like quality. If there are a few which fail to have to have something to talk about well par for the cource. They do need to entertain to gain a public that they want. Nova can’t be about minor things. I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points. No better American show for subjects like these. Could give Creationism at least once a fair shake. Yet the more publicity creationism gets the more gain it gets. I think they know that.

I’ve never heard of a NOVA show that endorsed Creationism. Clearly, you live in a different universe than me.

Robert Byers said:

This YEC loves NOVA. i like most of the subjects and the entertainment of them. I loved the Missoula flood one and many others. think they are very well done. Only BBC has like quality. If there are a few which fail to have to have something to talk about well par for the cource. They do need to entertain to gain a public that they want. Nova can’t be about minor things. I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points. No better American show for subjects like these. Could give Creationism at least once a fair shake. Yet the more publicity creationism gets the more gain it gets. I think they know that.

NOVA gave creationism a fair shake. It lost. As always.

Robert Byers said:

This YEC loves NOVA. i like most of the subjects and the entertainment of them. I loved the Missoula flood one and many others. think they are very well done. Only BBC has like quality. If there are a few which fail to have to have something to talk about well par for the cource. They do need to entertain to gain a public that they want. Nova can’t be about minor things. I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points. No better American show for subjects like these. Could give Creationism at least once a fair shake. Yet the more publicity creationism gets the more gain it gets. I think they know that.

Robert Byers, please tell us why there is no physical evidence for God magically poofing the world into existence 10,000 years ago, and please tell us why you have to lie in every post you make.

Like, for example, why is it good for Creationists’ publicity if people show how they are pathological liars who deceive people, especially children, in order to make monetary profits and stroke their own egos?

I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points.

Please explain, with examples.

Regarding YEC: I can relate, I’m a Flat Earther. Much of Nova shows the creation in 2 dimensions, at least on my TV.

AE said:

Regarding YEC: I can relate, I’m a Flat Earther. Much of Nova shows the creation in 2 dimensions, at least on my TV.

And I bet you’ll tell me that 3D TV is a Satanic plot.

NOVA does the most

Karen S. said:

I find a lot of the shows work for creationism in many points.

Please explain, with examples.

recent research on many matters in geology and biology , history etc. so if creationism is true its expected that the attrition of truth gains by research. So points are corrected and step by step move toward YEC. The Missoula flood makes a smashing case for how fast events need only be invoked to explain earth. How it was a evolutionaryish prejudice that had to be overcome. like that. stuff we love. Episodes on dinos demonstrate how they were killed by flooding water and its just endless how knowledge helps us out in points. I do wish they would give equal time to creationism since its the opinion of massive numbers of people and since they want our money for PBS. It truly is a failure of insight and rock and roll for those who make public shows to be afraid of the great historic subject . It could make great ratings, great impact, and great story. It shows there is a establishment that clings to its defences. On origin subjects they present a America that does not exist. We are here, staying, growing, and will in time give the public a better presentation on these great matters. Creationists talk amongst ourselves of the clear fear of giving us a fair shake. if evolutionism was soooo confident then why so shy??

Robert Byers babbled something incomprehensible

In other words, you can not give any explanations or examples.

The Missoula Flood does not demonstrate that the entire world’s geological features were formed by a catastrophic, 40 day, 40 night long flood, especially since a) the appearances of the vast majority of the world’s geological features do not suggest that they were formed through sudden, catastrophic flooding, and b) the Missoula Flood was a localized event.

As for dinosaurs dying in floods: how come no Creationist has been able to logically explain how no modern animals are mixed in with all of the dinosaurs that allegedly died in the Great Flood?

“Evolutionists” (sic) are not shy of giving Creationists a fair shake: Creationists are shy of presenting any evidence, and they refuse to explain how Creationism is supposed to be a science.

But, Robert Byers, you can not understand this because you’re a Lying Moron for Jesus.

Why don’t you just stop posting here? Every post you make further demonstrates how you are a liar and an incurable idiot.

Robert wrote:

“It shows there is a establishment that clings to its defences.”

Well, at least you got one thing right. There was indeed an establishment that clung to it’s defenses. Three hundred years ago most people thought the earth was very young. However, Hutton showed that it was not. Now all real scientists have been convinced by the evidence that the earth is billions of years old. There is no reticence on the part of anyone to demonstrate this. There is however reticence to dignify the cries of the ignorant who refuse to accept the evidence.

Now Robert, since you like NOVA so much, perhaps you can answer a few simple questions from your vast experience of watching the programs. How old does the NOVA show claim the earth is? Do they claim that there was a world wide flood? When do they claim the dinosaurs died out?

So you see Robert, the program you love so much completely disagrees with your religious preconceptions. Get a clue lad. you is busted yet again.

the appearances of the vast majority of the world’s geological features do not suggest that they were formed through sudden, catastrophic flooding, and b) the Missoula Flood was a localized event.

I have seen few NOVA docs and so will accept the view here that they are generally sound; good.

I do however wonder how Mr Byers likes BBC docs as their stand on evolution as fact is uncompromising. In any of their natural history efforts, starting in the early eighties with Attenborough’s monumental ‘Life on Earth’, they never lower themselves to even mention an alternative to evolution. The theory is accepted, and described, and shared to the utter exclusion of any alternative; their reasoning RB is because there is none. Perhaps RB you should remember the BBC’s utter disdain for your non-science before you watch another of superlative their productions.

Or indeed, ‘their superlative productions.’:)

PBS Nova ScienceNow just completed a 6-part series with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson that was geared toward middle/high school students. It was exceptionally good! If only we could clone Dr. Tyson and put him in every science classroom in the country. If you missed it, you can catch it online here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sciencenow/

I appreciate that HHMI will be producing quality science documentaries but there is a lot of good science programming already on TV. That’s not including network shows like “CSI” and it’s spinoffs, as well as medical shows like “House” and “Bones”. It seems that science and scientific thinking (“follow the evidence”) should be seeping into the culture. What are the 40% of Americans who don’t believe in evolution watching on TV? Oh yeah, sitcoms and sports.

I heartily agree about Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Simply an excellent science communicator.  As for sciency TV shows, I’d also recommend “Dr. G, Medical Examiner”.  I’m not a wet-ware guy, but the forensics seem to be really good.

MaryM said:

That’s not including network shows like “CSI” and it’s spinoffs, as well as medical shows like “House” and “Bones”.

For some reason, this came to mind.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on February 7, 2011 12:06 PM.

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