The Scientific Method On TV

By Darcy Cowan 29/04/2013


Last week Michael Edmonds asked “Which TV Show Best Demonstrates the Scientific Method?
Various shows where suggested such as CSI and NCIS. Bones made an appearance in the comments as one show that exhibits a fair amount of pseudoscience along with it’s “real” science. House was praised for it’s attention to hypothesis generation and testing. I generally agree with that but found the fact that House always came up with the correct answer alone and via an epiphany type insight a bit unsatisfying.

In any case most shows do poorly at portraying science, this comes inevitably out of the fact that the show is there to tell a story. The science may or may not help with that but in the end it is merely set dressing for the real aim. I’m fine with that – I watch a lot of tv and aside for the odd grumble along the lines of “It would take longer than that!” or “You wouldn’t do it that way!” I’m happy enough to suspend my criticism and enjoy the ride.

But the question remains – which show does it best? Over the weekend an answer came to me that might be cheating a bit, but I think the best I’ve seen lately is one called “Guess with Jess“*.
Guess with Jess

If it sounds like a kids show, you’re right – it is.

The basic set up is like this: A cat decides on a question for the day and then sets about trying to answer it. Pretty simple.

I think it does pretty well showing the methods of science:
A question is generated via an observation of the world, a “literature” search is conducted to find what is already known on the topic (via asking the other animals), a hypothesis is generated that fits the question and what is known, the hypothesis is tested and the results observed to see if it answers the question. Often the first attempt is incorrect, so the question is refined, another “literature” search is conducted, another hypothesis generated and another round of testing conducted.

At the end an answer is arrived at which satisfies our feline protagonist and everyone is happy at having learned something new. Possibly Jess goes off to write a grant proposal – I’m not sure.

So that’s my answer. Adult fiction is too focused on telling a compelling story with relate-able characters in a limited time frame to make more than a passing effort at getting the science right. But that’s ok, we can rely on a young cat named Jess to pick up the slack.

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* If a black and white cat named Jess sounds familiar, you might remember that this describes the cat of Postman Pat. According to wikipedia they are one in the same, I’m not sure if Jess has been put out to pasture or if this depicts Jess’s life before settling down with Pat.

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Filed under: Sciblogs, Science Tagged: Educational Resources, Science in Society, Scientific method, Television


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