HHMI to produce TV science films

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.