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A first practical step on the documentary problem

The discussion on the problem of documentaries clarified some possibilities 
in terms of what is and is not practical at this time. 

Some commentators said that nothing can be done because those producing the 
documentaries will just go ahead and do what they like. This is both 
defeatist and unrealistic. Although it is not possible to gain complete control 
over the situation and prevent any defective programs or segments from being 
produced, many producers will respond positively -- some simply from being 
made better aware that there is a problem they may not have previously 
realized, others from pressure -- and the product can be improved. 

Some downplayed the problem, suggesting that errors are soon forgotten by 
the public. This is doubtful, flawed ideas often take on a life of their own 
and can be hard to kill off. Nonscientists often assume that when something 
is stated on a documentary it must be  true. A given documentary may be 
repeated a number of times over the years, reinforcing the mistakes. And there 
is just no excuse for many errors -- such as the statement in one program 
that T rex had a brain as large as a gorilla's with the implication it was very 
intelligent, or the hadrosaur explicitly shown chewing like an ungulate. 
Something needs to be done, the question is what.

It looks like having an organization such as SVP operate a constant vetting 
program is not an option in part because such groups are already overloaded 
with other projects,  as well as other issues. 

Probably the best thing to start with would be a statement of principles 
for nonfiction programs on prehistoric life. Because it is a straightforward 
project perhaps SVP can handle it. The document can start with a statement of 
concern that the unprecedented and now permanent proliferation of programs 
has often failed to meet scientific standards, and that the situation needs 
correction over the short and long term. The statement should list the 
minimal characteristics necessary in a scientific documentary -- such as the 
views of researchers who appear should never be misrepresented, and 
controversial ideas should not be presented as established facts. At the same 
time it 
should be worded in a manner that does not unduly conflict with the academic 
freedom of researchers to present controversial ideas. It would not much 
effort to put together the document, and could be handled through SVP or the 
like using people familiar with the problem. 

Producers and researchers can be asked to adhere to the standards. When 
asked to participate in a documentary paleontologists can conveniently state 
they will do so only if the producers adhere to the guidelines. Whether it is 
practical to allow programs that meet the standards to carry some sort of 
seal of approval may not be achievable at this time. 

The statement should be released to the press. This would do a number of 
things. It would certainly garner a lot of publicity. This in turn would alert 
the public the fact that past documentaries have contained flaws and should 
be taken with a grain of salt.  

Producers would receive a heads up that there is a problem, that the paleo 
community is fed up with the situation, and would be aware that they are now 
being held to a set of standards. Just how much effect this would have is 
not clear because it has not been tried before. The only way to find out is 
to try. It can't hurt. 

If the statement is effective then it might be expanded to other others of 
science, perhaps in a general statement on scientific documentaries in 
general. Same for those of historical subjects. Could be used as template for 
this sort of thing. 

If the statement proves ineffective then further steps can be considered. 

On the same track, it might be a good idea for a group of those who work in 
paleo to set up a company to produce programming. Would need to include 
some media profressionals experienced in creating documentaries. 

On an individual basis always feel free to refuse to provide assistance 
unless one receives monetary compensation above expenses. $750 a day is not unco
mmon, but ask what you think your time is worth. If they refuse for one 
reason or another then that's more time for you to do what you want or need to 

As a pet peeve I would like to see higher standards in the quailty of the 
dinosaur animation, which is often not much better than the models I was 
pulling out of cereal boxes in the 60s. Getting the animators to stick to the 
provided plans can be like pulling teeth, they tend to want to add in their 
own preconceptions.