[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

What makes a good science documentary?

On Sat, 18 Feb 2006 10:32:30 -0800 (PST) Jorge Dichenberg
<jorgedich@yahoo.com> writes:
> --- dinosaur@usc.edu wrote:
> >  15) Re: Seven Rules for Making a Science
> > Documentary

> Disagree with the first rule: "It is people, stupid". 
> For me, the best ever science documentary is "Walking
> with dinosaurs" where no human appears at all. 

But without the human presence, there is *no* science!  How can the two
players be divorced in such a way that it enhances the story?  Humans
provide context to discoveries (and to the controversies) that they make.
 Science isn't conducted in a vacuum.

The best-made science documentaries provide the viewer with a balance
between pure scientific information and the "human variable".  The "human
variable" encompasses: 1) the background of the scientist; 2) the
discovery process; and 3) the conflicts between scientists and the
controversies that result from those conflicts.

The "Cosmos" series is a good example of a first-rate science
documentary.  Sagan included historical and cultural context with the
scientific information.  This blending of discoveries with their
discoverers is necessary in order to convey a more complete story to the

Indeed, my favorite science documentaries may not even merit being worthy
of a footnote by others on this mailing list, but to me the following
represent the best of the best:

- The National Geographic specials from the 1960s-70s. (shows on the work
of the Leakys, Jane Goodall, and the Craighead brothers stand out in

- Cosmos

- The "Life On Earth" series.

- "Nature" on PBS

- NOVA (Two documentaries on the life of physicist Richard Feinman are
among my favorites)

While I thoroughly enjoyed watching the "Walking With Dinosaurs" series,
I would not rate it particularly high on my list of what makes a
first-rate science documentary.  WWD failed to meet some of Seven Rules
that were listed on NOVA's URL .  OTOH, "Walking" was an *excellent*
movie, provided that it is viewed as a movie, only.  ;-)  Granted, there
was a lot of science in it, but the scientific process *behind* the
science was given short shrift.  In my opinion, the scientific process
*is* the interesting part of any science story.  Pretty pictures of
dinosaurs, without delving deeply in to the methodology of discovery, is
pretty boring stuff to me.  I realize that this is probably 180 degrees
off from the views of others here. YMMV.