When the typical tv audience tunes into more sensationalized programs, into apparently well-thought -out science-reporting shows such as NOVA on PBS or the science news show on the DISCOVERY Channel or into science information programs on THE LEARNING CHANNEL, that audience probably retains a healthy amount of awareness and even skepticism about the claims they find there. They realize that more speculative show--by their nature. They oversimplify in order to sensationalize. So, they distort the small amount of science that might possibly underly the show's conjectures.

But those more serious science shows often contain more abstract types of distortion and oversimplification that are rampant on in those shows. Audiences are often less aware of that.

We call these Level 2 oversimplification problems. They are much more subtle than the sensational Level 1 oversimplifications and conceivably are more damaging to our ability to define and nurture scientific ways of thinking.

Many of the more high-minded science reporting shows, including NOVA, repeatedly display the most common type of Level 2 oversimplification: constantly treating theories as if they are absolute facts.

Most references to Evolution, especially those in passing, are examples of this. That evolution is a theory (or set of theories), not an established fact, is obvious to some members of the audience. Who? Presumably many scientists. But also their strange bedfellows, those viewers with fundamentalist religious beliefs who are for their own reasons, and with their own problems, inoculated against that Level 2 confusion.

But more subtle treatments of THEORY AS IF FACT are everywhere and go largely unnoticed. For example, consider the theories of ice ages and, more recently, plate tectonics. This blurring is not of much help to a public that already tends to equate theory with any old kind of personal belief.

Further, the theories--not labeled as such--are often treated ahistorically. They are disconnected from their origins, as if they are not only facts, but have ALWAYS been facts. Referring to theory this way does nothing to educate the public and, in fact, smacks more of indoctrination than information or education. Marx would have called such presentations ideological. The seem to be focused on creating false consciousness by-- among other things--making what has been artificially constructed appear to be naturally occuring and therefore inevitable: the hardest of hard facts.

Such behavior seems more like religion than science.

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