Science

“The Bone Detectives”

Has anyone else seen this show?  I just watched the first episode (it had been sitting on my dvr for a month so I figured I should watch it).  It’s a new forensic archaeology show on Discovery.  I have to say I was disappointed.  The host, while highly credentialed and educated in the field, appeared to be playing dumb for the camera–badly, I might add.  Also, the show was poorly edited together and repeatedly brought up subjects and failed to follow them through.  When it came time for conclusions, the answers presented did not appear to fit the evidence that was found.  Maybe they just didn’t have sufficient time to document everything, but it seemed to me that they could easily have done a better job.  Why is it so difficult to find good science on television?  Apart from Mythbusters, which totally gets it, and is very successful, all that’s out there is badly presented, dumbed down crap.  At a time when the public understanding of science is lagging, I think it’s important to present real science in a smart and fun way.  People aren’t stupid–they know when they’re being manipulated and pandered to, don’t they?  I don’t know, maybe I’m deluding myself and people are eating this stuff up… 

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20 Comments

  1. I agree. I find most of the science shows on TV disappointing. I just read science books as a hobby and I often notice mistakes or missing information on shows and Mr. WriterDD gets frustrated and changes the channel because I complain so loudly.

  2. The problem is, TV science needs to be dumbed down crap *because* the public understanding of science is lagging. You don't get ratings by talking over your audience's heads. And if you don't get ratings, you don't sell advertising spots. And if you don't sell advertising spots, the network doesn't get money, and you don't get to have your show on their airtime.

    Mythbusters overcame this by focusing as much on the building and engineering aspect as anything else. Something that the blue collar audience can at least identify with, even if they can't follow along with every other detail. And having some entertaining personalities, throwing in more than a few explosions, and some brilliant editing doesn't hurt either.

    Accurate information and entertainment is a volatile mixture. And if you don't get the formula just right, it blows up in your face. And not in a good way.

  3. writerdd:

    i'm glad to hear i'm not the only one who heckles tv shows.

    peregrine:

    i completely get what you're saying, but i just can't help thinking that there has to be a better way. i don't know…i really think that this show actually could have been cool and had mass appeal without the dumbing down. the basis is really cool, and fits nicely into the forensics fad currently going on. what it does right is to present a scientific problem as a mystery to be solved, which many people will find interesting. my point is that i think the people that make these programs have too little faith in the material (pardon the expression) and in trying to hype it up, they make it lame.

  4. This sounds a little like "Time Team" over here in the UK. Great show, but that's probably just because it's pretty much the only archaeology show on TV. The concept is basically that a team of archaeologists has 3 days (usually) to dig around at a possible site. The obvious problems with this tend to frustrate the aforementioned professional diggers, and as someone with (a little) education in that direction, I in turn get frustrated at the flights of fancy every time they unearth a shard of pottery. Could this have been an expansive and expensive Roman villa with elaborate tiled floors and thirteen baths? Or perhaps an industrial centre, the focus of a vibrant community of craftsmen? Well, possibly. But if your only evidence is a piece of pottery, you need to portray what that *realistically* tells you.

    To be fair to them, they do have to make it exciting, and archaeology tends to be one of those things that is exciting over long periods of time – not compressed into three days. Also, the archaeologists are forever reminding the presenter (Tony Robinson, the erstwhile "Baldrick" in Blackadder – if you've not seen it, do so now) that he needs to have more realistic expectations and that real results take time.

    It's still a good watch – or used to be, I've not seen it for some time.

  5. i'll have to check that one out…

    and yes, i am a fan of blackadder…i have this hilarious image in my head of baldrick attempting to explain anything scientific…i know, i know…it's just a character. :)

  6. I don't want to badmouth Mythbusters, because I love that show, but lately I've been disappointed to see them focusing much more on outcomes than on processes and logical reasoning. For instance, they'll make some decision, probably based on something, but don't show the reasoning process very well so we're at home going "well why'd they do that and not this?". Then they build something cool and something else blows up. Meanwhile, we at home are scratching our heads.

    Then they make a mash-up episode where they bitch about the viewers writing in complaining that they didn't do something – they proceed to illustrate that they really did do it, or they do it anew.

    I like that Mythbusters brings science to the masses, but I miss the earlier episodes when they more thoroughly explored the development process of experimentation *in addition* to the cool explosions and neat gadgets. Maybe if they continued to do that in the first place, they wouldn't have to have those mash-ups at all. :)

  7. PS…the whining about viewers questioning their methods/findings also sends the bad message that we shouldn't question findings and should accept things at face value – something that makes me cringe, as a skeptic. Asking questions and finding the best answer we can is what science is all about! :)

  8. i'll followup a bit on what Kimbo said about mythbusters. I also am a big fan of the show. I don't have cable, so i just catch it here and there, mostly in reruns, so I can't really say how it's changed over time.

    However, it also usually leaves me wanting more out of it. I think they straddle a fine line between Entertainment and Science, but I wish sometimes they would defer to science a little bit more. I do realize, though, that most decisions on the show have to be made with Entertainment and Sales/Viewers being the number one priority, otherwise there would be no show at all.

    A couple examples.

    1) I don't know if they still do this, but they used to put up a kind of joke-disclaimer like "WARNING: Science Content!!" before they got too deep into science or math explanations. While I can see the humor in doing this, I think specifically point out "science content" with a warning only reinforces the notion that "normal people" shouldn't be expected to understand it.

    2) I'm often disappointed in how quickly or definitively they are willing to declare a myth "Busted" or "True". Like Kimbo said, sometimes they have to go back and explain that they did more experiments, but what they show on the episodes is often not enough to truly declare a myth Busted. From the experiments they do and show on TV, I feel that many more myths should be declared "Plausible", meaning that they couldn't exactly reproduce the myth, but they can see how it might be possible under other circumstances. They do use Plausible sometimes, but I think they are hesitant to use it very often because it feels kind of like a cop-out, like they just didn't try enough, and because the audience is more likely to be happy with black-and-white, yes-or-no answers

    3) Related to #2, I feel like they often ignore, or simply choose not to address or air, other causes or possibilities of some of the myths. Usually they focus one one or two ways to accomplish the myth and don't address other potential causes. Also, they often tend to leave human behavior out of the question. For example, one myth I saw was that a trombonist put a firecracker in the horn of his trombone behind the mute, and when it blew up the mute shot out and hit the conductor, blowing the conductor into the audience and causing a chain reaction of people falling in the audience. Well, they set up the experiment with a trombone on a stand, and a mute and firecracker in it, and a fake conductor standing a few feet away ("Buster", the dummy) at the edge of the stage. To their surprise, on their first try the firecracker went off and blew the mute straight out of the horn and hit Buster directly in the chest, going at a very fast speed. Well, even with the mute going that fast, Buster didn't budge. To their credit, they did some elementary physics using the conservation of momentum and determined that the mute, weighing only a few ounces, would have to be traveling at an incredible speed in order to actually knock back a full grown person. Based on that calculation, they declared the myth Busted (well that, and the fact that the trombone didn't split open like a cartoon banana, which was also part of the myth). But, not even once did they consider the reaction of the conductor as he saw a mute fly at him out of a cloud of smoke at 50mph! I think any person faced with that would likely jump, dodge, flail, freakout, whatever, and could easily fall backwards off the stage. While perhaps that behavior could not be scientifically analyzed, I think it is well worth considering in the plausibility of the myth!

    Anyway, still a good show, and the public in general would be better off for watching it. Too bad the Bone Detectives doesn't sound as good.

  9. For good TV science how about "Rough Science"?

    Put five scientists in a remote location and give them some tasks to solve with whatever materials are on hand:

    Find refine and assay some gold.

    Create a mosquito repellent.

    Build a weather station.

    It's not a show where anyone is going to learn about the latest breakthroughs at the frontiers of knowledge, but it's a great way of showing the principle that scientific thinking and practice enables the understanding, use, and control of natural resources.

  10. Hear, hear – Rough Science was one of my favourite shows! I want them to bring it back, but everyone should find copies and watch. It is great stuff, and they do the science properly (explain their methods & the mechanisms behind what they are trying) and show failure along side success.

  11. davehodg:

    I've never seen Brainiac on a station in the states. I have seen a some clips of it on youtube and wish I could watch an entire episode. It looks rather interesting and fun. It'll never happen, but that's the kind of show the sci-fi channel should be showing instead of ghost hunters, or ghost hunters international. maybe BBC America will start showing it instead of fifteen hours of Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunters. I wish they still showed Location, Location, Location at least once in a while. oh, well at least we get Dr. Who. Yaaay!!!

  12. Rough science was awesome. I think I've seen all the episodes of one season back-to-back on Open University. That was last year, when I was unemployed and didn't really care about staying up until 5:30 AM.

    You could easily alter the location they find themselves in (and the tasks they're given) sufficiently to make a good handful of seasons. In fact, I distinctly remember at least two entire seperate seasons, one taking place at an old abandoned mining site near the Arizona meteor crater, and a second season where they're on some island.

    The part that makes it interesting, and which I think is also what makes many of the Mythbusters episodes interesting, is the competition between two different solutions for the problem (or in Mythbusters' case, testing the myth).

  13. As a professional archaeologist, and college professor, I was also very disappointed in Bone Detectives, for all the reasons cited her and more. My biggest problem is not the presentation but the subjects chosen, which are always the most exotic, unusual and least representative things encountered by archaeologists. It gives a very unrepresentative view of archaeology, and this is regrettably par for the course in educational TV shows in general, and ones on archaeology specifically. I actually assigned this show to students in my Intro to Archaeology class this week as a critical thinking exercise.

    All that said, BD is head and shoulders above a few other gems, such as "Digging for the Truth" previously staring Josh Bernstein. You want to see some truly horrific schlock masquerading as science, check that out.

    Sean Rafferty

    University at Albany

    Department of Anthropology

  14. i seem to remember wasting my precious time on that show once…it probably wasn't as regrettable as the 2 hours i burned on that hack naked "archaeologist" asshole. don't even get me started on him…

    i am a life-long archaeology buff, and a student of anthropology, and just once i wish i could see something successfully convey to your average television viewer what it is that those of us in the field find so compelling…maybe it's just not possible.

    to be honest, the only program i've seen that has come close is a fictional one. while i realize that some of the methods portrayed are sexed up for tv, i think "bones" does a fine job of portraying the scientific method, and how that can conflict with other goals in the course of doing forensics work. yes, it has cheesy elements, but i don't think there is another character out there that captures the essence of science like she does. not to mention she's pretty explicitly atheist.

  15. I'm not sure if anyone here might qualify (UK, male, 25-35, science background, interest in dangerous sports), but I just got an email about a new science adventure show looking for a host.

    CASTING 25 to 35 YEAR OLD MALE HOST FOR SCIENCE ADVENTURE SHOW

    Objective Productions (UK) and The Discovery Channel are in search of a 25

    to 35 year old male host for a new adrenalin fueled and action filled

    show. Our host will take on seemingly impossible challenges with crazed

    enthusiasm while placing his faith in science no matter how crazy the task

    appears.

    DANGERMAN is a documentary style reality series that replicates the

    extraordinary stunts performed by daredevils, stuntmen and showmen and

    explains the scientific principles that make the most amazing feats

    possible.

    Applicant MUST BE A SCIENCE GRADUATE (minimum bachelors degree). You

    must have an interest and passion for extreme and dangerous sports and

    related areas.

    Please submit a recent photo (from the last six months) along with a bio

    or resume and letters stating your interest in the show, science,

    adventure and extreme dangerous sports.

    All submissions can be emailed to [email protected] or

    hard copies can be sent to

    Annabel Rafftery

    Objective Productions

    Third Floor, Riverside Building

    County Hall

    Westminster Bridge Road

    London SE1 7JA

    I'd be tempted, but I'm just too old.

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