The other night I caught the second half of a documentary about science shows on the TV. It covered a bit of Sci-Fi and drama but mostly the actual science and technology shows and how they were presented, what they covered, how they were made and styled and so on. It was quite light and breezy but did include some classic clips and was a decent summary of the cultural attitude towards science and how it featured on television.
One feature was the use of quite a few talking heads of various researchers who are also well known as TV presenters or similar. One thing absolutely struck me however, so much so that I actually grabbed my camera and took some photos of it (so they are mostly not very good). And here they are. Let’s see if you can spot the ludicriously obvious and annoying trend.
Yes. If you are not sitting next to a series of flasks full of coloured liquids then you are obviously not a scientist. Most of them also have a human skeleton in the background too. This is madness. I’ve ranted before about the ‘labcoat = scientist’ thing in the media (and ironically this show mad a joke about that, despite doing this!). Even if you are a Nobel Laureate, have a Knighthood or Professorship, people clearly won’t buy your credibility as a ‘scientist’ without some coloured liquids.
Some of these are especially egregious – Colin Blakemore and Ian Stewart are in front of storage cupboards which are obviously full of just glassware, but then a few of them have coloured liquids too. Michael Moesley nearly gets way with just a fume cupboard, but then there are some lurking in the background. David Attenborough get’s off OK and so too does Jim Al-Khalili with just a couple of molecules. But then the top one actually had liquids smoking with dry ice! Come ON! and Liz Bonnin has a plasma globe. As a collection, this is pretty rank.
Now look, I know you want a bit of background colour for your shots to make them a bit more interesting. That’s fine. Stick the guy in front of a nice machine, or some books, or a skeleton or whatever. But several of these are obviously shot in labs, and yet are obviously not nearly science-y enough so you have to add coloured sodding liquids and plasma balls. I’m surprised they didn’t have a Van Der Graff generator in there or a shambling hunchbacked servant called Igor in the corner. If you are going to have the temerity to do this *while* having a go at older shows for patronising scientists by dressing them up then this simply stinks and makes you look stupid.
Oh yes, and most obviously gives an insanely cheap and obvious popular stereotype of science which massively inaccurate. For a show exploring just such issues, that’s not just a shame, it’s all but an insult.