Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Sad State of the Science Channel

          I wish there were a knob on the TV to turn up the intelligence. There's a knob called "brightness," but that doesn't work. ~Zoltan

Well, it's been a while since I've been here, but the state of science programming hasn't improved. In fact, it seems to be completely disintegrating.

It started before Christmas. The Science Channel decided to run a nine-day marathon of every “Mythbusters” episode ever done, in celebration, evidently of dumping the build team and moving to a reboot of the show truer to its “original roots”. Once that was over, the Science Channel turned into the “How It's Made” channel, endlessly showing episode after episode of “How It's Made” ever since. They break up the monotony once in a while with their idiotic “Outrageous Science”. If you haven't seen this disaster, the show consists of videos of idiots trying to hurt themselves, with supposedly science-oriented commentary. When they don't embarrass themselves with that, they show UFO nonsense.

This ain't science, gang.

As to the Science Channel, they seem to have lost their entire budget for new programming. “Outrageous Science” has to be cheap to put on, while the UFO shows can't cost much either. Keep in mind, these are the guys who used to show programs on string theory, Brian Cox's various “Wonders” series, and a lot of other really interesting shows.

It's not that “How It's Made” is a bad show. It's just that one can only watch so many factory processes (while wondering where all the people are).

The increasing number of UFO's-are-being -covered-up and Aliens-built-civilization shows are equally disturbing. History2 seems to dedicate a couple of nights a week to the nonsense of people claiming flying saucers are everywhere, and little green people built the pyramids. History seems to be mostly “American Pickers” and “Pawn Stars”. As an aside, I always wonder if the people who sell stuff to the Pickers ever watch and see the massive markup these guys are appying to the product on resale. No wonder they never seem to visit anyone twice.

At any rate, you see one old Penzoil sign, you've seen them all.

Ironically, the aforementioned “Mythbusters” is now shown on Discovery, making it the only show that doesn't involved gold prospectors, fishermen, or Alaskan idiots (NOTE: since I first wrote this, they seem to have moved to the Science Channel). Sadly, the new show is a pale imitation of what it once was. Evidently, due to budget overruns, they had to sell their newer facilities and are back in the original site, known as M5. They also seem to go to lengths to show that they have little or no assistance, even setting their own explosives (when did Jamie and Adam get licensed to handle TNT?).

The entire focus of the first three programs was TV and movie debunking. To give you an idea, the first show featured physics from “The Simpsons” including a huge water-filled foam Homer Simpson tied to a wrecking ball slamming into a house, thus proving that a huge water bag can reduce the impact of a huge wrecking ball.

Say what?

The last program involved video games, including trying to see if you could really carry all those weapons first-person-shooter characters carry. They “proved” that if you're in really great shape you could do it. Of course, they guy couldn't effectively switch weapons and basically just used his last one to do the job. And he didn't try to reload any weapons. And the baddies always waited until he got organized with whatever he just picked up before attacking. But, they felt good, so that's all that matters, right?
Somehow, this doesn't feel like the original shows did, which actually involved myths and misconceptions.  Unless, that is, your entire world is made up of movies, TV, and video gaming.

At any rate, returning to the “How It's Made” channel, the irony is that this sad state of affairs (which people are screaming about on Science Channel's Facebook page) comes as Discovery has begun to brag endlessly about all the wonderful channels it has. I haven't been to their website to count up the channels, but just looking at their ad, it appears they own everything except Turner and ESPN channels. Well, that's probably a small exaggeration but not much of one. To further the irony, Discovery now brags how it's working with schools to encourage science education, calling on Kari Byron, who's out of a job with them to hype their participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education programs . The more they brag, the worse their programming gets.

Well, as long as the kids don't watch any actual Discovery axis programming, they might learn something.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Little Further Down the Tube

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn't have in your home. ~David Frost

I know, I know. I'm a tiresome old curmudgeon when it comes to the subject of non-fiction television, most recently discoursed here. But, the situation is becoming so ridiculous, I am moved, once again, to raise a voice in pitiful protest.
Discovery plays fast and loose with quotes from scientists (leading them to believe that the subject is not prehistoric sharks still roaming the seas). Cosmos was horrible (thanks loads, Seth McFarland). Various crackpots have been given air time to claim they've found Jesus' tomb, Atlantis (again and again), Noah's ark (Look! That image shows a rectangular rock! It must be the ark!) and the Ark of the Covenant (one of the most pitiful shows ever done because the expert was so sincere).
Virtually every night, we get conspiracies uncovered (watch out for those sneaky Freemasons!), UFO's tracked (they're everywhere, they're everywhere), and ancient “discoveries” proving that pre-Columbus, the vikings set up shop in Wisconsin (probably because they heard the cheese was good). Also in the ancient discoveries (ha, ha) category is the never-ending nonsense of the ancient aliens shows. The pyramids? Aliens built 'em). The Nazca lines? Alien runways. Mythological beings in ancient religions? Obviously, aliens.
Recently, there was an ad for one of these pieces of nonsense claiming that Constantine's vision of a flaming cross was “misunderstood technology”, i.e. it was an airplane because, after all, if you look up in the sky an airplane looks like a cross. Of course, if it looks like a flaming cross, which was Constantine's vision, it might be in a tad of trouble, but what the heck, that's not your problem.
In hoc signo vinces, my ass; someone's just flying the friendly skies.
But it looks like they're really running dry, because they've had to resurrect the Bosnian Pyramids.
This bunch of baloney made news in the generally ignorant mass media (which will believe anything by someone claiming to be a scientist) back in 2006, and was immediately debunked. I've written about the whole fiasco at length; you can see it all here. The so-called archaeologist was a guy named Semir “Sam” Osmanagic, among whose other claims to fame included determining that ancient Mayans were descendants of the survivors of Atlantis, who were themselves descended from – ready for it?-- alien visitors from the Pleiades. As I said in my earlier piece, for those who are astronomy-disabled, the Pleiades is a star cluster which is one heck of a long way from Atlantis.
Ol' Sam even brought in an expert from Egypt to verify that his discovery was an honest-to-gosh-for-real pyramid. Trouble is the “expert” was not from the Supreme Council of Antiquities. He was a mineral expert who decided that the sand between the blocks clearly indicated the use of cement like the ancient Egyptians used. Except that they didn't use a sand-filled cement; they used a gypsum-based goop which also helped slide blocks into place. There was also the problem that the whole area was under a sheet of ice at the time these things were supposedly constructed. You get the idea.
So the Bosnian Pyramids sank into oblivion as the mass media began to realize they had been had. Well, having given people enough time to forget the truth, good old History Channel (or H2, I'm not sure which) has brought them back, and given the direction they're taking these days it wouldn't be surprising to find that the aliens have something to do with them, which, interestingly was not one of the theories that Sam put forth at the time. But, if you're going to sell swamp gas, you might as well go for the premium stuff, I guess. This also may be a repeat of an program they did some years ago, which was seized upon by the pyramids-in-Bosnia crowd as proof positive that they things are real.
What makes this all so galling is that the networks peddling this stuff are supposed to be entertaining people (and sneakily teaching) people real science and history, not this hokey crap that should make an educated person puke. It becomes easier to understand why we've become a nation of anti-vaxer's, climate deniers, and history revisionists. Combine this sort of “educational” programming with home schooling, Bible-based science and history, and a general disregard for actually learning anything of substance and you find the current miserable state of American education easy to understand.
Look, an occasional nutball claiming aliens drop by his backyard on a regular basis is just fine, if you have real scientists pointing out that he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about. But equal time for real knowledge doesn't seem to be part of the fabric of these programs.
The only satisfaction I can derive is that even the ignorant will tire of these idiotic displays after a while. After all, if you've seen one alien unexplained conspiracy you've seen them all. By that time, they'll have lost all the intelligent viewers, so no one will be left to watch their drivel. These networks will be reduced to 24 hours per day of infomercials.
Which will contain more factual material than all the hokum shows combined.