A matter of life and death : rethinking evolution and the nature of science on television
Bard, Susanne Clara
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In a world where antibiotic resistance can make bacterial infections deadly and the HIV virus constantly mutates inside the human body, an understanding of evolution and its mechanisms is increasingly important. Yet much of the public is still either hostile to or misunderstands evolution and its mechanisms. Television provides the bulk of the general public's exposure to science once formal education has ended. The rhetorical strategies employed by much of science and evolution programming, along with an emphasis on content over process, delivers the message that science is a search for absolute truths rather than a dynamic process relying on falsification and tentative knowledge. The way in which science and evolution is presented parallels failures in the educational system to teach science as more than just a collection of absolute truths and unassailable facts. In both science teaching and science television, critical thinking often loses out.Science television, especially that dealing with evolutionary themes from the distant past, tends to reinforce an authoritarian view of science by using visual images that are difficult to argue with, and an omniscient narrator. Evolution, and much of science, is counterintuitive and difficult to learn. Presenting subject matter in the absence of context is inadequate for building epistemological structures. Producers, like teachers, must first gain a mastery of the true nature of science in addition to the subject matter they cover, in order to encourage critical thinking in their audiences. Several television programs do an excellent job of this, even though they are far removed from the beautiful and expensive "blue chip" films normally considered to be high-quality offerings in science and natural history programming.
A matter of life and death: evolution in action is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.