Sunday, October 23, 2011

Science Shows Deceiving?

Science shows on Discovery or the Science Channel have always been a part of my daily-knowledge-diet. After several years however, they began to repeat themselves and could no longer compete with my increasing factual knowledge as a result of my university training.

Television program where they investigate a wide-variety of man-made events and objects (image: Science Channel)
A recent talk by John Rennie, who served as editor-in-chief at Scientific American from '94-2009, speaks of the problems with the media's methods in regards to reporting science. Rennie points out that much of the news we receive about science are the things that were recently published in scientific journals and other forms. The problem with this system is that it can lead to confusion for readers.

A report on a scientific study that says: "Researchers have linked X with Y," can deceive a reader into feeling that these studies are the cutting-edge of our scientific knowledge. The more acceptable perspective is that these new studies are merely another piece of a puzzle, and that they are not entirely indicative of a solved mystery.

This ties into science programming after I saw a Science Channel episode of:

How Do They Do it?
"Super Cars" Building and designing the most advanced super cars in the world.

The problem arose from a segment on ethanol fuel cars. The show features a stylish, concept-style car driving around town while the narrator mentions facts about the cleanliness and fuel efficiencies of ethanol based automobiles. Although the show is meant to give glimpses of new technologies, the tone and enthusiasm behind the idea of ethanol was misleading.

Automobile capable of using ethanol fuel (image: luftfahrad - Wikipedia)

The show, in my mind, hyped the scale of ethanol's usage, making it seem like it corn-based fuel pumps were more common than they are.

This is not a criticism of "How Do They Do It," they have a target audience like any journalist. But by focusing only on the highlights, the information can deceive by painting an ideal picture that seems larger than it is, rather than showing one more piece of the puzzle.

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