The truth in selling science, and the drama of adapting it for television
Watkins, Edward Matthew.
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The path from science text to science television show is a rocky one. The fragmentation of the television market place with the growth of cable television has pushed science documentaries into a headlong pursuit for higher viewer ratings in a medium dominated by works of fiction. In response to this, science documentary has steadily been pushed to alter the techniques it uses, and adapt its content to become more dramatic. Varying market pressures have led to the rise of two dominant methods of dramatization; narrative imposition and visual spectacle (typically CGI). However, in addition to making science shows more dramatic these two techniques have acted to create a hybridized format, blending subjective speculation with traditional expositional documentary techniques. The result of such hybridization has been to blur the lines between fact and fiction and to allow for the creation of dubious subjunctive documentaries, and almost entirely fictive narrative documentaries. This has acted to uphold the cultural practice of misinterpreting science in order to support fantasy and fiction, and has led to a rise in pseudoscience, which could be potentially very damaging to society. The growth in the public misinterpretation of science could leave our societies woefully unprepared to make informed decisions about the future. To avoid this, I suggest that we find ways to adapt science for television that are more accurate in showing the true nature of science. Instead of bending science to conform to preconceived, linear dramatic narratives, I suggest we look at alternative narratives such as those seen in discursive 'essay' films. And, instead of stretching spectacle and visualization so far as to create fantastical dramatic fictional worlds, I believe we should focus on creating shows that use metaphor and analogy to help us visualize the real, hidden nature of science. By utilizing scientists as guides and peers rather than as heroes and elitists, by choosing discourse over teleology, and by incorporating visually rich metaphors and analogies into science shows, we can render the strange and unfamiliar understandable and engaging.