Today my friend Steve McGann published a blog post, Core Beliefs, in which he highlighted the potential problems of how, in generating a compelling narrative for science documentaries, scientific information can be presented as fact when, in reality, there is much more debate around its credibility.
“A confident, coherent narrative in communication can be far more compelling than an equivocal exposition of different opinions. As a species, we are seduced by stories of progress and heroic certainty. Yet there is a crucial tension between the power of science narrated as certainty, and the truth of science exposed as messy, disputed and debated.”
Whilst this is not unique to science (as one commenter noted), this is a very important post and something that all should be aware for reasons such as Steve summed up.
…how will the public trust crucial scientific consensus on global issues if disputed science, wilfully communicated to publics as core knowledge by scientists, is later shown to be built on shaky ground?
I think this is a great post, and there are many nuances to the argument. However, there is one point that I would like to raise as someone who has spent a large part of her working life working in factual television production.
I think that there can be a difficult tension between TV producers/directors (PDs) and those who work at the higher levels, and ultimately make content decisions. I have been fortunate enough to work on some wonderful programmes for a variety of production companies, producing content for a range of channels. Through my experience I know that there are many incredibly skilled PDs out there capable of balancing the difference between debated subjects and more substantial scientific ‘facts’ with a compelling narrative. However, this content can be compromised by those higher up, who force/demand content changes.
In a way, it comes back to Alice Bell’s articles and posts on scientific literacy. If there were better understanding of the scientific process, and how scientific knowledge is generated, throughout the general population then those who people would appreciate why the changes they ask for compromise the science they are presenting and, more generally, Science.
A small disclaimer here, I am not pointing to any person(s) or company here. I have been fortunate enough to not have found myself in this situation… but I am aware of what can and does happen in the industry. As I said before, this is a very important discussion to have and those who work in the factual production should be keenly aware of this and other discussions about the effect that generating narratives can have on scientific information.