A few years ago I was sitting in an organic chemistry lecture, confused as always, listening to the professor explain crystal lattices. Suddenly, I remembered an episode of the children’s television show The Magic School Bus. In this episode, Ms Frizzle’s class reconstructs rock star Molly Cule’s dissolved sugar crystal. The show was able to convey the ability of a water molecule to interact with a sugar molecule without explaining complex concepts such as molecular polarity and intermolecular bonds. It was then that I realized that the basis of most of my scientific knowledge comes from information I learned watching The Magic School Bus. This made me wonder why there isn’t an adult show that incorporates a captivating narrative, accurately explains a variety of different scientific concepts and is entertaining?
Currently there are some popular television shows such as CSI and The Big Bang Theory that use science as a backdrop to the narrative. To me CSI is a montage of whirling technology that is never properly explained. While experts debate the accuracy of CSI’s science, the show misleads the audience about the ease of finding and analyzing evidence. There is not always DNA evidence and the killer will not always be listed in a database. Similarly, The Big Bang Theory often uses scientific terms or refers to a scientific theory but the theory itself is never explained. Therefore, the show is not informative. If you don’t already know the concept, the words are— as Penny would say—“jiberjaber”.
In my opinion the show that comes closest is MythBusters. MythBusters may lack a beautiful narrative but it is informative, entertaining and scientifically accurate.
It excels at highlighting the scientific process:
- It starts with a question: “Could this myth occur?”
- From this question a hypothesis is made: “It is possible”
- Next an experiment is designed to test the hypothesis. At this time the narrator explains the science (usually physics) behind the experiment.
- The experiment is conducted and, like most experiments, it often fails.
- Then the narrator explains why the experiment failed and how it is being modified.
- The hypothesis is retested using the modified experiment.
- Steps 5 + 6 are repeated until the experiment either succeeds or the scientists blow up the experiment in frustration (If only all scientist could explode their failed experiments).
Am I asking too much? Perhaps, but I for one, would be much more likely to remember helicase’s role in separating DNA strands and unzipping genes if it is explained to me while I watched my favourite television couple unzip their jeans. I did say the show was aimed at an adult audience.
Let me know if I’m being unrealistic, missing out on an inspiring tv show or just reminiscing on my own.