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November 7, 2003 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Not happy with the level of scientific discourse on The Discovery Channel Fed up with missing out all those keynote addresses by top scientists at various conferences around the globe? Fear not! The Cable Science Network is gearing up for launch. Billing itself as 'a C-Span for science' they hope to use television to counter some of the crap and misinformation that usually rides the airwaves.
posted by PenDevil (25 comments total)
If you haven't, give some of those keynotes a try. One of my favourites is Richard Feynman's 1959 talk at American Physical Society at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Scientific keynotes aren't necessarily dry nuts and bolts presentations. Even at a scientific seminar there is a diverse audience with a disparate background. They require more knowledge to appreciate than say an episode of Nova but the keynote is more about entertaining and fueling discussion than scholarship. Equations and entertainment usually are orthogonal to each other.
posted by substrate at 4:58 AM on November 7, 2003

I'd be all over this channel! I hope it comes to pass...
posted by tommyspoon at 5:02 AM on November 7, 2003

Not catering to the lowest common denominator sounds like a pretty original idea to me.

I like it. Let's hope they don't use laugh tracks and slick editing when the ratings turn out to be poor. :)
posted by denbot at 5:08 AM on November 7, 2003

This seems like a great idea to me - there's a real need for better quality scientific programming. I wonder how their business model works - it would be a shame to see things start out well but gradually get dumbed down so they can sell more advertising. I also wonder whether it will make it to any cable network here in the UK.
posted by Singular at 5:25 AM on November 7, 2003

Has anyone read this?

There is rarely a day that goes by when i'm not boggled by the gullibilty of some people. It amazes me how many people actually believe in psychics, and how much money these cranks make.
posted by derbs at 5:25 AM on November 7, 2003

Oh, and I vote for the Hunter Rouse fluid dynamics films - then you get to play drinking games! (this might not be altogether serious)
posted by Singular at 5:34 AM on November 7, 2003

If they get this up and running, I would actually consider paying for cable tv, just to watch it.
posted by tdismukes at 6:16 AM on November 7, 2003

derbs, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle In The Dark is one of my favourite books. Sagan was one of the few people who could introduce skepticism and science without sounding like he's talking down to people. Too many people go out of their way to try and sound so clever and exclusionary that they even manage to alienate people who share similar views. A case, albeit somewhat off topic, in point would be the bright movement for atheists. Yeah, calling yourselves brights (implying that anybody who isn't an atheist is... dim maybe?) is really going to make people sympathetic towards you.
posted by substrate at 6:23 AM on November 7, 2003

[This is good], but it's no substitute for successfully teaching basic science in our schools. Until we do that, we'll continue producing more gullible, ignorant citizens to support bad, anti-science governmental policy.
posted by rushmc at 6:27 AM on November 7, 2003

calling yourselves brights (implying that anybody who isn't an atheist is... dim maybe?) is really going to make people sympathetic towards you.

We don't want sympathy; we want representation. And the "dim" thing is certainly arguable (though this is not the thread for it).
posted by rushmc at 6:29 AM on November 7, 2003

If they get this up and running, I would actually consider paying for a service that carried it and little else. This is poised to be the most interesting thing on television, bar none.

substrate: In spending a lifetime raging against an unending sea of ignorance, it's easy to get discouraged and lose perspective. That Sagan did not makes him saintly, but that others do makes them only human.
posted by majick at 6:30 AM on November 7, 2003

I've been waging a quiet battle to get my cable provider to pick up NASA TV for years. If this comes to be, I'll definitely be chasing after it as well.
posted by Inkslinger at 6:52 AM on November 7, 2003

rushmc, I am an atheist and I find the bright movement harmful. Part of getting representation will be getting sympathy, or at least not alienating people. Choosing the name brights is loaded, you can argue it all you want but it's going to be spun as labeling believers dim. No politician is going to risk being viewed as somebody who thinks their religious constituents are dim. I don't know what a good name is, and I agree that it's needed, but I know how Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly or Ann Coulter would spin the bright movement.
posted by substrate at 6:54 AM on November 7, 2003

In addition to a TOTAL ban on pseudo-science, I would like to see some shows that explore the process of DOING science rather than just its results and findings. Most people, even people who are interested in the latest discoveries and speculations of science, know little about scientific method and about what goes on in the lab and the field.

I propose three shows:

1. A show about the history of scientific methodology: each episode would be centered around a major scientific discovery of the past, and it would tell the story of how that discovery came about, from beginning-to-end.

2. A similar show about contemporary discoveries and research.

3. A show about the real-world politics of doing science: getting funding, academic battles, etc.

I imagine it would be hard to find sponsorship for these less-than-sexy, but vital parts of real-world science.
posted by grumblebee at 6:58 AM on November 7, 2003

rushmc - it's pity school science is so bad. I'm sure it puts many off for life. You know, non-science people are amazed by science. People are amazed when i tell them that that the centre of the earth is a solid ball of iron and nickel 1000 miles across. Or that the carbon in their bodies comes from stars that exploded billions of years ago.

Science was compulsory when i was at school. But they taught shit like the Moore's law of springs, and titrations. Kids who weren't into science must have been thinking "fuck this!".

The early science lessons should be about what science has acheived, and why it's worth putting your faith in. Leave the equations to the kids who decide to follow the science path.
posted by derbs at 7:29 AM on November 7, 2003

I don't understand why channel-by-demographic wins out so regularly over channel-by-topic, but it seems to, so I'm betting the Cable Science Network goes MTV2 in a couple years if it even gets a foothold at all.

Alls I know is, there is no Black Belt Channel, and therefore there is no God. I guess this makes me a "bright."
posted by furiousthought at 7:39 AM on November 7, 2003

I think discovery channel and the learning channel provide a clearer path for how this thing would go. They'll start out with some tangentially scientific shows like robot wars or that one where people build things out of trash at the dump. Those will of course be the only shows that consistently pull ratings. Before you know it, they'll be rerunning queer guys waxing the straight guy.
posted by willnot at 9:05 AM on November 7, 2003

I propose three shows:

I'd propose a 4th, or maybe 0th show, prior to methodology, about the philosophical, psychological, political, and Cosmological (both in the physics sense, and the more broad "why are we here?" sense) revolution that occurred in the transition to modern scientific thought in the 17th/18th centuries. In fact, they should do a miniseries based on Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle which (so far - I'm only halfway through the 1st one) does a brilliant job of portraying this revolution in all its human dimensions.

The public could use some grounding in what science has really brought us besides spiffy consumer products, advanced weapons, and the space program.
posted by badstone at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2003

Television expanding to teach something? Wow. The whole conspiracy behind programming is providing avenues or short thought and insight without spurring people to get up and DO something.

Example: How many of these mechanical science-based shows (monster garage, robot wars) do actually tell you where to look for parts, what connections must be made, how to roughly make it? Junkyard Wars tells you that for team X to create a Y, they must build a working Zbob capable of withstanding Aforce...
posted by omidius at 10:20 AM on November 7, 2003

rushmc, I am an atheist and I find the bright movement harmful.

I understand your concerns and respect your opinion.
posted by rushmc at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2003

Brights aren't alone in their conjecture that they are "enlightened" and by implication others are not - this is what virtually every religion says about itself - but is exactly the company they supposedly want to distance themselves from.

On the other hand, if you see putting supernatural and mystical considerations beneath you as part of the route to genuine enlightenment, then they have labelled themselves consistently. I personally don't think it's terribly unhealthy to think that part of the path to enlightment includes not deferring to ghosts and goblins.
posted by badstone at 11:03 AM on November 7, 2003

An argument against the use of the term "bright."
posted by rushmc at 1:53 PM on November 7, 2003

"If they get this up and running, I would actually consider paying for a service that carried it and little else. This is poised to be the most interesting thing on television, bar none."
majick: I second that. I'd be actually willing to buy a satellite dish for this.
As for the funding: How many BScs, MSs and PhDs in the natural sciences and engineering are there in the English speaking world alone? What percentage would be interested to subscribe to this?
Consider also that I'd be willing to buy DVDs or video tapes of their shows regularly, and so would, I'm willing to bet, a large number of people (not to mention TV channels) around the world. So this isn't doomed from the start at all I think (or is it I hope?)
posted by talos at 3:21 PM on November 7, 2003

"What percentage would be interested to subscribe to this?"

I have no degree whatsoever (and likely none in my future) and I'd give close to a small car payment for this stuff. The Feynman talks plus promises of back-to-back Nova and Cosmos are enough to make me want to give money or plasma or a limb or something for this channel -- let alone original programming and coverage of current goings-on! That's worth far more than a couple of bucks' subscription fees. If they succeed in putting this together, I can't think of a thing on TV that would outweigh its importance or attractiveness.
posted by majick at 7:34 PM on November 7, 2003

I protest the claim that there's a lack of a pure science channel on TV. Sure, it's often boring, but the galleries and satellite cams on the NASA TV channel are cool, if not dripping with scentific wonders. They do cover plently of the scientific and engineering issues with space flight.
posted by Down10 at 7:41 PM on November 7, 2003

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