Over the past few days, I’ve been following a tale of paleontological woe with a surprisingly happy ending.
Matt Wedel, a paleontologist, has been blogging about his experience with a television show on the Discovery Channel called Clash of the Dinosaurs. It didn’t go well. The producers edited Wedel’s interviews to turn his words around 180 degrees. For example, remember that old notion of big dinosaurs having a second brain along their spinal column? Not true! Wedel explained this, but if you tune into the show, you see Wedel essenitally saying, True!
Wedel understandably flipped out. He complained to the producers and got back a non-apology that just made him angrier. He was transformed into the terrible Blogosaurus, and with his resonant nasal cavity he let out a clarion call for his fellow blogosaurs to stampede the production company
I’ve heard this sort of story many times before, and this is where it usually ends. Blogosaurus slinks back to his office and sulks.
But today the story has another ending. Wedel now reports that someone from the Discovery Channel called him up and is going to make things right. I can only guess that blogs do actually make a difference some of the time. Or maybe just this once.
A very nice discussion about the clash of science programs and science. In many cases, the video producers goal is to produce great visuals. That is what the medium requires. So far so good. But excellent programs require good narratives also, in order to capture people’s interest.
The problem often arises when a really nice visual narrative, loved by the producers, runs up against the facts. Does the producer drop the wonderful narrative or find some way to keep it in, even if it requires twisting some of the words of the scientists.
As long as producers have no real pressure to get the facts right (and things like Nostradamus 2012 indicate that this is obviously true) misrepresentation will be a worry. This does present a conundrum. Many researchers want to get the science out to a lay audience. But the wrong science can be really to take back.
Perhaps the researchers should ask for some sort of final vetting of the program for reality. But I have real doubts about this actually working. I have a hard time seeing producers letting go of great visuals simply because the narrative is weak. All you have to do is look at Avatar to see this.