Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Junk Culture's View on Science

Yes, Animal Planet had a serious documentary about
the reality of mermaids.  Click for photo credit.
At the close of the year, I write a series of posts on overlooked environmental stories of the year.  In previous years, I wrote about the acceptance of the "new normal" in climate change, the growth of GMO food in the US diet, the expansion of benchmarking in sustainability management, the growth in the science of Mars, the acceptance of climate change by big energy, the high carbon cost of the internetwhite nose syndrome, the lack of clear US energy policy, the normalization of sustainability in everyday lives, the decline of the nuclear energy industrythe end of sprawl, and population growth.

It is interesting to go back to those posts and gauge their relevance in today's conversations on the environment and sustainability.  If you have any suggestions as to what I should feature in this year's series on overlooked environmental issues, send a note or leave a comment.

So far this year, I've written about the science of early humans and the stark reality of climate change.  You can catch the posts here and here.

Today, I'm writing about the overall expansion of junk science in popular culture.  Certainly it is not surprising that scientific thought and reasoning take a back seat in an American culture where the Kardashians and a duck hunting reality show have high ratings or when Miley Cyrus gets more votes than any world leader or major thinker in Time Magazine's people's choice award for person of the year.

A whole bunch of the junk science is focused on kids and young adults.  Just take a look at the recent documentary on Animal Planet cable channel on mermaids.  It was a documentary that basically took a pseudoscience look at mermaids as if they were real.  It wasn't tongue in cheek.  It was a seriousish effort.  You can see it here.  I would have been embarrassed to be involved with this one!

Now let's go over to National Geographic Channel.  One of their hot shows is called Diggers and is basically about a bunch of looters of archaeological artifacts.  They also have shows called Polygamy USA and Rocket City Rednecks.  National Geographic has gone a long way toward destroying their well respected gold-seal brand based on over a century of solid scientific and geographic writing in their magazines by helping to dumb down television.

The Discovery Channel originally focused on historical and scientific documentaries.  Now, it has shows like Amish Mafia and Naked and Afraid (I guess they put naked people in nature and see what happens).

I won't even begin to list what passes for Art and Entertainment on A and E.  Suffice it to say people are leaving cable in droves due to the lack of thoughtful or interesting stuff.  So many of my friends now have cable just for the internet.  Sure the bad TV is fun, but too much of it is bad for our culture.

But that's TV.  What about in schools and museums?  Well, take a look at who is choosing public school textbooks in Texas or the Creation Museum.  Note:  I am not anti-religion, just anti anti-science. The expansion of anti-science thought leads to these kinds of issues where it becomes problematic for science teachers to teach basic accepted science.

Even in our public discourse, there is bad science that creeps in.  Just take a look at the GMO debate.  There are reasonable arguments to be made on either side of the issue, but there is a ton of bad science out there that distracts from the real issues.  It leads to headlines like this.

The problem with all of this anti-science stuff in our culture is that it gives a voice to really bad people who want to intentionally deceive the public on important issues like environmental change.  Plus, the expansion of bad science in public or private schools makes students from those schools far less competitive nationally and internationally.  Do you really want your doctor to graduate from a high school or a university that is considered outside of the accepted norm of scientific or intellectual reasoning?

I don't want to be too harsh, because there are many great things in our culture that celebrate science and intellectual thought.  However, look around you and you will see that there is more and more junk out there--and it is more and more accepted.

1 comment:

Jared Garfinkel said...

I am aware of much the smut being pedaled as entertainment on television. Another channel that might have begun with the promise of adding a voice to further learning on television, The Learning Channel, has fallen quite a bit from that ideal. (See "Honey Boo Boo.")

I would even add news to the list of programming that was once informative and has since deteriorated in quality. The 24-hour news cycle has changed the tone of news from that of trusted journalism to high-anxiety, sensational stories to pump up ratings. The types of stories and the emphasis has almost changed from journalism to editorial, so that the channel a person watches to learn information is an indicator for their political bias.

However, I would like to mention a couple of shows that aren't entirely stupid.

The C-SPAN Network curates capitol hill hearings and floor speeches; and the PBS Network, which includes WLIW and 21World, shows informative nightly news and political discourse, including the McLaughlin Group and Moyers and Company, two high quality shows.

Although there are bastions of informative programs on television, the amount of intellectually inferior shows is available many times over for people who go that way.