View Full Version : How to Make Skepticism Commercial
21st July 2009, 08:41 AM
BD is right that storytelling is the key to a compelling message, but it isn't the whole answer. There's an aspect of story called the willing suspension of disbelief that runs counter to the impulse for skeptical discovery. You have to somehow craft the elements of the story so that you don't undermine the skeptical theme. Mythbusters does this in a way that grabs, but I notice that so far others have failed to port that formula to different shows.
If you're trying to entertain people, narrative trumps everything. When your story hits a wall and you have to choose between drab reality and engrossing fiction -- well, bad reality shows depart from reality on a regular basis, and by doing so they grab viewers and stay on the air.
There's a large class of people for whom objective reality holds no appeal at all. Sometimes I'm not too crazy about it myself. Often the only redeeming virtue of reality is that it's true, and for some people that will never be enough. For them freedom is the right to believe exactly what they want, and if science tells them they can't do that, well, then to hell with science.
It's possible I'm missing the point of this episode. I admit that. Does it really boil down to nothing more than "Be more interesting"? Because that's completely true but not very helpful.
22nd July 2009, 03:10 PM
I wasn't all that impressed with this one either. The idea of making a TV series or movie where the characters use scepticism and logical thinking as part of whatever problem-solving they encounter has occurred to probably a lot of people, including me.
I'd love to see something like that made, though - an exciting series with camouflaged lessons of logic, critical thinking, rational explanations for popular misconceptions, etc. 24 did one hell of a frighteningly good job advertising and promoting torture, to the point where lots of people, according to a human rights group, cited the series as what convinced them torture was right.
If TV series and movies can turn people on something as sickeningly horrific as torture, surely skepticism can't be too far off either? Problem is, as Dunning says, that a lot of educational series, movies and games are so blatantly in-your-face educational, which throws people off. If you want to make a game to teach kids skepticism, math or reading, don't advertise it as one - just release the game and camouflage the learning part of the experience. As an example for those of us who read Donald Duck comics, Don Rosa never advertised his fantastic Uncle Scrooge adventures as history lessons, but kids and grown-ups alike still learned a lot from them. More importantly, they loved them. Had he put a "this is a special story which will serve as a history lesson!" sticker on it, I know I'd have been turned off.
22nd July 2009, 03:30 PM
Well, I've noticed more and more scepticism on mainstream British television - Jonathan Creek was very rationally-minded, and we have Derren Brown, sceptical comedians like Mitchell and Webb and Dara O'Brien (both of whose shows did homoeopathy jokes this week), and good documentaries by outspoken rationalists like Dawkins, Brian Cox or David Attenborough.
Sure, we still have "Songs of Praise" and "Thought for the Day", occasional nonsense like "The Great Global Warming Swindle" and obscure digital channels peddling psychics and ghosts, but the sceptical voice is definitely more prominent in recent years than it's ever been before.
28th June 2010, 10:15 AM
I'd love to see something like that made, though - an exciting series with camouflaged lessons of logic, critical thinking, rational explanations for popular misconceptions...
Sounds like a pretty good description of The Three Investigators (or The three ??? as they're called over here) to me.
If you're going to camouflage your wisdom, I guess it's done best through fiction - or with a really cool presenter, like Captain Picard or Commander Ryker. ;) Unless you split the spooky story and the "revelation" across two episodes and set a challenge for the audience.
In any case, there will always be an audience for quality stuff (like documentaries from the BBC, PBS and History Channel, I bet they're the most pirated on the web). I love Jon Ronson, Dan Carlin and Melvyn Bragg (the latter, not always :cool: ), but I'm sure not that many ever will.
11th July 2010, 09:01 PM
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did a great job of using logic and reason with Sherlock Holmes. It's also fascinating and spellbinding, pun intended, writing that I have always treasured. The issue is that the unknown is that curiosity and an explanation needs to be woven in and it is far more engaging to let the viewer/reader put their own imagination to work. it's actually a literary device. It's hard to build suspense with facts, though I think CSI did a fairly decent job of showing deductive reasoning, it had to place a greater than life scenario into play and skew the facts a bit or people to find it entertaining. People don't normally get entertained by facts and truth unless you can somehow relate that to an experience that they can relate to. Star Trek for example uses logic versus Emotions to show how often cold logic can be "wrong" because people get offended by logic as it insults their ego. Without the ego there is no self but without the self there is no progress. Until we evolve to function more as logical beings with emotions instead of emotional beings with logic this will always be the case.
11th July 2010, 10:52 PM
The Universe and How the Earth Was Made are both pretty interesting science programs that sell science as interesting. I think we're so hung up on the idea we need to debunk the garbage we forget maybe we just need to make science interesting or even fascinating.
I would think even the woo crowd is a tad tired of the same old recycled myths. UFOs, Big Foot, the Bermuda Triangle .... yawn. Have you seen anything new on any of these programs recently? River Monsters is a real evidence based program that makes actual biology at least as interesting as the redundant searches for Big Foot that never turn up any new evidence despite all the latest expeditions.
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