Post March for Science (that I could not attend despite this post), I have been thinking of how to maintain public’s attention on science and to submerge science even more into everyday life. What would make people think science is “cool,” “fun,” “important,” “necessary,” “beneficial,” and ultimately where a big part of our investment for the future should go.
Grassroot outreach is essential and crucial, and we should keep doing it. However, are there “quicker and easier (dirtier)” ways that can reach out to more people?
These days what media reaches out to more people fast? TV? Podcasts? Video series on Youtube? Websites? Facebook groups?
I personally do not watch any TV anymore, but think that TV may still be the best way to distribute “cool science.” In podcasts, web series, or social network groups, one needs to find it, like it, and subscribe it. On TV, there is still an essence of forced feeding once you turn on TV and choose a channel (you watch what TV network executives deemed worthwhile to air). And yes, science will have to be highly entertaining for TV network executives to deem worthwhile.
There are currently well known science TV shows – Cosmos, NOVA, Bill Nye, Mythbusters, etc. These and other shows usually are more of a lecture-like format. “This is very cool, and here is a 10-minute explanation of why/how cool it is.” You have to actually pay attention to understand. For many people TV is a pleasurable and relaxing activity, and may not want to turn full attention to comprehend. Could we brainstorm for a show that can make science more fun, funny, engaging, easily sunk in, and can be broadcasted on major networks during prime time?
What TV shows are getting high ratings these days, and how can a science show be one of them?
“America’s got Science”
I have never seen this show (ok, I’ve never watched any shows I’ll mention below except for the last one), but what I understand is that people showcase their talent in front of audience and judges. The audience, judges, and viewers then vote which performers should advance to a next level of competition and ultimately win a monetary prize. Could we do something similar with science — scientists showcase their research with cool visuals and presentations, and non-scientist judges and audience ask questions. In the end viewers and audience vote on “which science is cooler,” and award grant funding to a winning scientist/project.
Science is no competition (well, aside from grant reviews — collaboration works better for advancement) especially across disciplines. Who is to say which science is cooler or better without personal agenda and interests. But in the name of entertainment… Judgement and ranking would probably be based on how well presentations “looked,” and might not necessarily on the content (but this happens in real science, too, am I not right?)
“Extreme Makeover: Science laboratory edition”
A struggling lab must find a way to strive again, with a guidance of a PI guru.
I already cringe just thinking about what form this might take. It would be painful to watch…
“Survivor: Scientist edition”
“Big brother: Scientist edition”
“Bachelor/Bachelorette: Scientist edition”
“Dancing with Scientists”
Ok I kid.
“A sit-com in a laboratory setting”
I always thought a laboratory is a perfect setting for a sit-com. Whenever there is a group of smart, overachieving, and driven people budding heads both figuratively and literally, hilarity and drama are bound to ensue. American TV has Big Bang Theory, but there is space for more nerds on TV, people passionately pursuing something. There is enough laughter in labs, while performing DNA precipitation, looking at specimens under a microscope, or, brushing dirt off dinosaur bones. Maybe one can crowdsource plot lines and episodes from different labs all over the world, across disciplines, for a such show.
“Is It True TV?”
All of the above ideas are knock offs of American (or originally British) TV shows. The idea for this blog post actually originated from importing a Japanese “variety” TV show, translated “Is It True TV (Honma Dekka TV)”. The show is in its eighth season, gets high ratings, and covers lots of science. The show is hosted by one of most popular comedians in Japan with no science background, and features a panel of academics and experts “the intellectual mass,” including a biologist, environmental scientist, psychologist, economist, exercise physiologist, educator, neuroscientist, lawyer, and others from various fields. The show also include non-scientist celebrities, who are there to ask questions, comment, and offer comic relief. The show is taped in front of a studio audience who are very audibly reactive when surprising or unexpected information is presented. Every week there is a theme that is relevant and/or useful to everyday life, i.e., “How to live healthy,” “Latest in medical advances,” “How to be popular,” “How to succeed in love life,” “How to have healthy relationships,” “Personality traits: how to know them, and how to deal with people with different traits,” “Successful child rearing methods / education,” “How to best save money,” “Internet common sense,” “Dangerous habits,” and so on.
Most information presented by the academics and experts are drawn from peer-reviewed journals (some demographic studies, too). Granted they might stretch implications to add to the shocking value, but they usually mention who conducted the study, sample size, and experimental design of studies they draw from.
Each show starts with a presentation of one finding, which makes the audience and guests to react, “Is it true?” “really?” “no way!” and the academics take turns sharing various information, facts, and research findings associated with the topic. For each subsequent presentations by the academics, the host, guests, and audience react and either agree, disagree, comment, or ask more questions.
In one episode of the show with a theme of “the Great Mother,” the show opened with a research finding that mothers’ love received during childhood prevents illnesses well into middle ages. The host, guests, and studio audience reacts, “really?!?!” A medical doctor introduced the study which demonstrated that those who perceived mother’s love while growing up – whether their moms understood issues and were present when needed – were less likely to develop diseases often associated with growing up in poverty.
The MC asked, what about fathers? The same doctor claimed that currently (at the show’s airing), there is not much research done on fathers’ love.
Then one of male guests requested, “please research this right away!” “I took my son to a park today, and are you saying there is no benefit in my doing it?”
The neuroscientist on the panel chimes in, “there is!” “The more a father spend time with his kids and teach about rules, the kids are more likely to learn and develop persistence .” [As I searched for this article, I found more studies on father’s role on child development.]
Another psychologist (parent-child relationship expert) continues, the benefits of mother’s love extends throughout one’s lifetime. Those who were raised by a mom with good moods are likely to be more optimistic and adaptable in their adult life (I could not quite locate an article with this particular finding, but found similar findings).
Other information provided by the experts included:
- Children of mothers who had morning sickness are likely to have higher IQs.
- The fat content of breast milk increases as baby drinks, giving the sense of fullness in the baby and stops feeding, and allows for more milk production in mothers.
- Babies fed breast milk is less likely to develop allergies (I found this to be controversial in my own lit search).
- Lower risks of breast and uterine cancer for women who breastfed.
- Women who breastfed are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
- Babies cry at night to prevent parents from making more babies – to increase their chance of survival and monopolize parents’ love and attention (I actually said “hmmm, really??” to this one).
- Infants’ smiles are sufficient to decrease mothers’ interests in other needs and wants (I could not find a reference for this either
These studies were provided with banters between the comedians, celebrities, and academics, sometimes making fun of each other and sharing their own anecdotes for laughs.
It is definitely an entertainment/comedy show, and not a strict educational show. Perhaps that is why it is gaining high ratings. And yet the show still does a good job of bringing science to everyday life. The academics and experts are becoming celebrities on their own; they are publishing books, making appearances in other TV shows, and touring the country on speaking engagements. Why not more scientists be like heroes and celebrities, like the GE commercial, or be pursued by fashion designers to dress like movie stars?
I envision more scientists like Neil Degrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku to appear on media, but not just from astrophysics but representing different scientific disciplines. I’m sure there are many scientists with big personality and charisma who can entice and engage the public. Who is up?
As for a TV show, would a funny science TV show lead to more funding in science? ….hard to say. Though I might go back to watching TV if a science show that makes me laugh out loud existed. So TV producers, what about it?