Poll: Television communicates science well?

Ok, so a 50:50 split between an ‘unsure’ and an ‘agree’. However, I’d call insufficient data to really consider it fair. Could have done with more votes.

I asked the question with the hope that I might get a range of views from scientists and those in the broadcasting business. Even so, I have to agree with the comment made which was balanced and ‘unsure’ but in a very considered way.

My view is similar. The efficacy of science communication on TV depends on the presenter, the format and the viewer. I’ve seen well prepared documentaries that cover insightful topics, delivered by enthusiastic presenters and which inform and entertain. I’ve also seen the same presenters deliver a lacklustre and static show without the benefit of beautiful production when talking directly to an audience. Communication is clearly more than either of these individual components. The format and the presenter must be right.

But my biggest concern is that the viewer must be right. Afterall, who is meant to be the viewer? There was a time when scientists had tried to force television to serve it’s educational needs only. An evening of Open University physics anyone? Hmm, depends on the party I suspect. But scientists are constantly belittling the efforts of TV production companies for the programmes. That’s where I see red with such scientists.

Last time I checked, scientists didn’t get new knowledge regarding their specialist field from the TV. Surely it comes from reading journals, conferences, discussion with colleagues. They need to be aware that science communication via the public services is not intended for them. Television does a great job of presenting something new and engaging to an audience that may be interested or new to a topic. I loved watching Andrew Graham Dixon discuss art history and I learned a lot. Yet someone who is say, an arts and design historian, would enjoy it on a certain level but feel it was superficial. Maybe they would even become disappointed with the lack of depth given to specific artists. Therefore, the viewer is paramount in this equation.gsr[3]

My personal opinion is that television does a good job of inspiring people to engage and learn science. One final example… I deliver a psychology session that considers the galvanic skin response and when I ask the kids the question, “Where did you guys learn how a lie detector works?” they answer… “Jeremy Kyle”. Ok, somewhat less than ideal and even teachers present roll their eyes in disappointment. But let’s not deny the good that TV does in at least providing an entertaining context and story to science. Now that translates as engagement in my mind.