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

Taking control of the documentary situation, an immodest proposal




Back when I was a lad anything to do with dinosaurs on the telly was so 
rare that one went for years craving for anything to show up. It was wonderful 
when in 77 NOVA broadcast "The Hot Blooded Dinosaurs," the best 
dinodocumentary ever. Its been pretty much downhill since.

I think almost everyone agrees that the situation has gotten out of hand, 
in which the producers of dinosaur documentaries are egregiously exploiting 
and abusing paleontologists on so many levels. I pretty much dread being 
asked to in some way participate in documentaries because I'm tired of being 
taken advantage of in assorted ways. I rarely watch them because I wish to keep 
my TV in working order. 

The problem is with both the broadcasters who pay for the programs and the 
producers who supply them. The former in particular are interested only in 
producing product that will make money in what is a very, very difficult 
financial market. Because there are so many channels to watch the audience for 
any given program is too small to generate much revenue, so the programs have 
to be done on the cheal (one comment that the producers have lots of money 
to kill is errant). Presenting accurate science is way down the list. 
Remember that most of the channels produce programs promoting the reality of 
alien 
visitors, the predictions of Nostrodemus, ghostbusters etc.; their is no 
Science Channel (the best channel in this regard is NatGeo, which continues to 
largely adhere is a science based worldview). The hands on produces vary in 
quality. Some may want to do a good job but are pressured to meet market 
demands. Others should not be allowed to produce serious scientific 
programming. 

In principle it is possible to take control of the situation. How? By 
getting organized. As it is the producers exploit us by dealing with us 
individually, and making promises that they are going to do THIS program right, 
and 
then doing what they damn well please until we get suckered the next time 
around. Researchers would need to agree to not participate in a program unless 
it has undergone a vetting process by a qualified group. If enough paleos do 
so this would severely constrain the producers who need talking heads and 
the legitimacy of at least claiming to have consulted experts. The publicity 
of announcing such a system would itself make the news and in effect "shame" 
the broadcasters and producers. Such a system would not need to be 
permanent, run it for long enough to see if it works, and then drop the 
arrangement 
until the producers get out of line and revive it as necessary. 

Whether such a system is practical is open to question. How would it be 
run, would enough researchers adhere to the rules to make it effective, etc? 
And it is a pain in the butt to have to do something in the first place. I 
only bring it up because the situation is so bad (I wonder if scientists in 
other fields have similar complaints, or are dinosaurs a special problem). 

One possibility is to have a set of principles for documentaries written 
up, and researchers can sign it. Producers would have to agree to the terms 
before signers could participate. The more I think about this idea as at least 
a minimal step the more I like it. For example it can include a clause that 
programs will not state an idea is fact unless this is not controversial 
(such as hadrosaurs were herbivores, while hadrosaurs protecting their young 
from predators would be qualified as plausible but not proven). The sheer 
press publicity should act as a wake up call to the producers that the 
scientific community has had it and they need to shape up. Or maybe something 
more 
organized is called for. Maybe try the first and if that does not work try a 
more formal arrangement. 

GSPaul</HTML>