I have always enjoyed watching shows on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel. My interest in science actually developed through shows like ‘I didn’t know that!’ and ‘Discovery Kids’. ‘Mega Factories’, ‘In the Womb’ on the National Geographic Channel and ‘How it is made?’, ‘Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman ’, ‘Curiosity’ and ‘How the Universe Works’ on Discovery Science are the ones I still watch with great interest.
The shows I mentioned above are made for an audience which has absolutely no foundation in science and these shows end up doing a good job in introducing great ideas in physics, chemistry, engineering, medicine, psychology, etc. to a willing audience.
Whether we need science in our lives or not, there are some brilliant ideas we need to be aware of. Darwin’s theory of evolution, how the periodic table was made, the fact that the speed of light is constant, how the earth formed, how the solar system formed, how do vaccines work, how life develops in the womb, etc. are some things all of us have to know and it is through shows on Discovery Science and NatGeo that we come to know of these things. As a student of the physical sciences, I would never have known about Darwin’s Theory or Genetics unless I picked up a text book (which would mostly be written for a person with sound background in natural sciences). But I do know about some ideas beyond my field of study only because of science shows on T.V.
Yes, they are over simplified but that is what makes them accessible. In spite of being a physics student, I enjoy the over simplified shows on relativity, black holes and particle physics. The complicated theoretical models and equations can be caught up with, later on, by people who are very interested in a particular topic. Also, I watch the shows on how automobiles are designed and made, with great enthusiasm only because complex engineering terms and equations are not used.
“To those who do not know mathematics it is difficult to get across a real feeling as to the beauty, the deepest beauty, of nature … If you want to learn about nature, to appreciate nature, it is necessary to understand the language that she speaks in.”
“I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
The above quotations attributed to Richard Feynman and the following words of a professor, whose extremely complicated lecture on Particle Physics I attended, seem to be directed against popular science shows on TV.
“Science should be popularised but it shouldn’t be trivialised”
They are right in the sense that the general public is left ignorant about the major theoretical quantitative aspects of science and are instead given a picture perfect qualitative view with eye-catching visuals and trivial anecdotes.
I completely agree that science is diluted through such shows and that the true essence of science is not transferred to the general public. But does it really matter? As long as they inspire an audience and induce them to marvel at the universe we live in and make them aware of the developments made by their fellow human beings it is fine with me.