I never fail to be amazed by the poor state of scientific media in America. Let’s take the so-called “Science” Channel as a case in point. What with the word stuck right up there at the front of the title, one might reasonably expect their content to include a goodly measure of the stuff; but no!
Tonight’s pot-boiler was the worryingly-named: “Are We Alone?” Given my interest in extraterrestrial science, combined with a rare night spent at home without my wife, I thought to give it a shot. How bad could it be? Well, as things turned out, pretty bad! For starters, the content was seriously dumbed down. More to the point, though, it was chock full of arrant stupidity! If I hadn’t thought to do a write-up on the experience early on, I would have never had the wherewithal to finish the hour-long “Part 1.” As thing stood, I ended up grinding my teeth.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for science education, and I certainly don’t expect the media to include a full-tilt dissertation with every show. Even so, it’s abundantly clear to me that the teeter-totter has swung completely to the dark (entertainment!) side.
Let’s take a few concrete examples. A recent favorite (as in least favorite!) example would be Firefly: the self-styled “space western.” Given the even-worse pap on offer throughout TV-land, it might not seem at first to be such a bad thing. After all, it’s just a stupid show. Regardless, Firefly is an unadulterated “Science-Fiction” show; with no pretentions to being anything else. What it isn’t, though, is “science!” Of course, Firefly doesn’t stand alone in this distinction. Indeed, the discerning viewer has dozens of non-science shows to choose from on the Science Channel, including Dark Matter, Fringe, Oddities, Punkin Chunkin and the all too aptly named “An Idiot Abroad.”
Lest I start to rant, I’ll hammer home my point by mentioning one of the more mind-bogglingly stupid sections from “Are We Alone.” Towards the end of the episode, they trotted out a geologist to supply a plausible “reason” as to why an alien civilization might want to light down on good ‘ole Earth. Now granted, his idea wasn’t quite so silly as the Matrix notion that it’s best to use humans as a handy source of electrical power; but only just. No, his supposedly brilliant idea was that they’d like to get their hands on our. . . now wait for it, ‘cause it’s a doozy . . . valuable . . . rocks and minerals! He even made mention of the fact that our biology has served to create other valuable stuff that the aliens might want, like methane. Can you say cow farts? Needless to say, I laughed out loud. I mean, the entire notion was so absurd as to literally boggle the mind. A visual person, I couldn’t help but envision the absurd dichotomy of an intergalactic civilization alighting on Earth, pickaxe in hand. In my favorite imagining, though, they laid train track all the way back to their star so they could haul the goods away home. Choo choo!!
The irony of this all is that we Earthlings have exactly one thing that a reasonable set of aliens might want, and that is us. I’m not, of course, talking about our biology, nor even about some later day Einstein who they might want to nab. I’m talking about our raw potential; nothing more. To use Ray Kurweil’s prediction, we’re a mere 32 years away from the dawning of “The Singularity” on Planet Earth. (Shortly!) post that date, literally anything will be possible. From an alien’s perspective, it might even turn out to be interesting.
Hmmm, sounds like a good subject for a science program. If we only had a television station that was dedicated to exploring such things….