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The Media Science

One Minute of Science Per Five Hours of Cable News 184

ideonexus writes "The Pew group has released its annual study into the state of news media. They conclude that science and technology content is a rare treat for cable newscast viewers; some five hours of programming could pass with the average viewer seeing only one minute of science news coverage."
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One Minute of Science Per Five Hours of Cable News

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  • by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:25AM (#22781518)
    I suspect the quality of that science is also very lacking....
  • Would they care? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swizec ( 978239 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:32AM (#22781556) Homepage
    It seems to me that the average television viewing person couldn't care less about science news. Unless it's groundbreaking and will most definitely change their lives they don't care and if it does, well then it's in the news anyway.

    Be honest, how many average people do you know who might care about a galaxy eating another galaxy ... and then again ... if memory serves I saw that on the news a few days after it was on Slashdot because the pictures were pretty.

    News networks don't care about news, they care about viewership.
  • huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by apodyopsis ( 1048476 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:35AM (#22781562)
    FTFA: From 5 hours:

    * 35 minutes about campaigns and elections
    * 36 minutes about the debate over U.S. foreign policy
    * 26 minutes or more of crime
    * 12 minutes of accidents and disasters
    * 10 minutes of celebrity and entertainment

    On the other hand, one would have seen:

    * 1 minute and 25 seconds about the environment
    * 1 minute and 22 seconds about education
    * 1 minute about science and technology
    * 3 minutes and 34 seconds about the economy

    Or to put that in perspective...

    1 hour 11 minutes of campaigns. elections and foreign policy and then.. only 4 minutes 56 seconds on education and economy!!?

    I would of thought the two would of gone hand in hand. How else to the politicians intend to persuade you lot to vote?
  • Enticement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:49AM (#22781608) Journal
    People think that the commercials are there to entice you to buy the product. In fact, the shows are there to entice you to spend time in front of the TV. Broadcasters aren't in business to entertain. They are selling viewership to advertisers. Their product isn't the show. Their product is viewer attention, and the shows are how they attract viewers. This includes the news. The broadcasters learned long ago that controversy and disaster attract much more viewers than science, and good news. The news isn't there to inform and enlighten, it is there so they can sell air time.
  • by Goffee71 ( 628501 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:50AM (#22781616) Homepage
    Go on then, with all the money that science gets for R&D, why doesn't the scientific community use a tiny part of it to launch its own channel covering 'proper' science.

    But, oh no, scientists everywhere suddenly claim poverty and, anyway, are far too busy tinkering with the LHC, latest mega-laser and juggling bacteria.

    Anyway, you only get covered in the media if you spend money on it.
    Science isn't sexy for 98.2% of the western world (i looked it up)
    With religious loonies running much of the american political system and media, the less science gets a look-in, the better - as far as they are concerned. Just in case people start to take notice.
  • Re:Slashdot? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by value_added ( 719364 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:51AM (#22781626)
    That aside, people tend to watch drama and reality TV, are we surprised there isn't any science there?

    I'm afraid the same could be said of "Science TV", which regularly consist of 4 parts drama and reality, and 1 part science, the latter typically consisting mostly of indirect references to science.

    My guess is that the programming folks fear that people wouldn't otherwise watch. If that's the case, then they've certainly overcome any fear that their viewers would be turned off by an overabundance of special effects presented against a backdrop of bombastic music, or are similarly disinterested in the human-interest angle, and turn to something more informative.

    The history buffs have it better.
  • ok, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ack154 ( 591432 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:54AM (#22781636)
    How about another study not so close to a presidential-election year? Not that I expect the science/education/etc coverage to increase dramatically in other circumstances, but of course it's going to be a lot of campaign coverage.
  • Re:huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IBBoard ( 1128019 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @07:56AM (#22781644) Homepage
    Five hours of news and only 10 minutes of celebs? Based on most UK news that seems far too low. We borrow things like American Idol from the US and our TV is excessively Celebrity-centric, so what news channel were they watching that wasn't?!
  • by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:09AM (#22781708) Homepage Journal
    this is bottom up. if msnbc suddenly reports more on science in more amounts of time your average slashdotter finds acceptable, msnbc's ratings go down. believe me, if they went up, you'd see 20 minutes every hour of the day devoted to science on cnn, msnbc, and even fox

    the real issue here then is that your average joe blow just doesn't care that much about science, not some sort of weird pact by cable news shows to keep everyone stupid

    and to go further than that, many will see failure in society, in politics, because joe blow isn't so interested in things your average slashdotter is. well, that's your vanity speaking, not your intelligence. why is your science-centric viewpoint superior than the viewpoint of joe blow? what is your objective reason for believing that?

    where is the objective measure that says someone massively interested in science would make a better citizen? many people here are certain of that idea, but plenty of people are also prejudiced to their own particular worldview and agenda. that's you i'm speaking to, you who sees little interest in science as a sort of travesty. it's not. it simply isn't. get over yourself

    the truth is, just not that many people are interested in science, were interested science, or ever will be interested in science. in any time period, in any country. get used to it. the world does not revolve around your biases towards a lot of interest in science, so this idea that few people are interested in science is not in any way a bad thing, it's just the way it is, and you would be doing yourself a favor by simply accepting that and moving on, rather than crying into your milk about some sort of travesty that isn't really a travesty at all

  • by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:21AM (#22781784) Journal
    I've seen that one minute per five hours. It sucks. It's usually so dumbed down that even when it's right it's so bad that it might was well be wrong.

    Put science news on the science and other educational channels. Science channel(s), Discovery, History channel(s), National Geographic, NASA channel -- it's not like there's a complete lack of sources. If people want it, they'll go looking. If they can't handle it, they won't watch it and don't need it.

    And don't give me any "the kids" nonsense. If kids need science, they need something better than news channels present. They need education, which means keeping them engaged, which means decent production. They're not prepared for science news yet. They're still in the stage where half hour shows with a few interesting longer stories are better for them. Besides, they don't need everything on TV. There's plenty of sources of science news that they can read. They're supposed to be doing that too.

  • by TheGrumpster ( 1039342 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:30AM (#22781854) Homepage
    The sad thing is that even many of the science and education channels have now been dumbed down to where they are often of little interest. Remember when TLC was "The Learning Channel" instead of the "Flip This House Channel"? Remember when the History Channel actually discussed history? Now even semi-respectable channels like Geographic are showing crap like "Search for Bigfoot" and "Doomsday Prophecies of the Bible". The networks aren't stupid. They know where their audience is. Why else do you think the channel formerly known as "CNN Headline News" that used to show a nice summary of the major stories in a half-hour is now nothing but four hours of some idiot blabbing about the latest Britney Spears fiasco? I know it's a sign of my old age, but seriously, the only television worth watching is an occasional show like Nova or Frontline on PBS, and sometimes something on CSPAN. As for the rest, it's all trash. The new dark ages indeed.
  • by oDDmON oUT ( 231200 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:30AM (#22781862)
    And make no mistake about it, viewers are being trained by what, and how, they watch from a very early age. News programming is only one facet of that.

    If you're trained to only accept information in time units no larger than the average bowel movement, the chances that you will think critically about any given subject are reduced immmensely.

    This works especially well for marketers and companies intent on your "consuming" their products, and for those who have the motives of a three card monte dealer.

    Which points up the critical importance of your tax dollars being used to insure everyone has access [] to the "glass [] teat []".

    Bread and circuses anyone?
  • by WCMI92 ( 592436 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:34AM (#22781886) Homepage
    Is related to the whole "man made global warming" hoax.

    Which is junk science at it's worst.
  • hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thatskinnyguy ( 1129515 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:34AM (#22781892)
    That's because if the general public were to even begin to understand the magic concepts of Science, their heads would explode. Small doses like this keep them informed, yet it keeps everything "Scientific" still magical.

    Have you ever tried to explain how something works to someone? I mean, I have to use analogies with elves, envelopes, and a giant series of tubes to explain how the interwebs work! I still end-up with a deer in the headlights stare.
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:46AM (#22781992) Homepage Journal
    As for the politician question, for those of us Americans we should have all received from the IRS our official "Politician Relection Act" statement, aka the Economic Stimulus Package. Opening that up and reading who qualified was a big kick in the nuts for those who actually work. Then again those who pay the majority of taxes are already going to vote, the politicians need those others who don't normally vote; too lazy to do so - a general reflection on their other daily activities; and so checks needed to go out with a glorification of government for providing the money.

    Politicians do not want an educated public. They want votes, ignorant people vote out of emotion more so than facts and as such they play to those ignorances. They play on bigotry, class envy, fear, and hatred. The news media caters to them, hell their story lineup pretty much is the same thing.

    We talk about science and technology but rarely act on them. Its all the rage in schools until Little Susy gets a D then we can't have those subjects anymore because someone isn't capable of keeping pace and suddenly we are more concerned about feelings than getting them up to speed. We don't celebrate the leaders and achievers in school because it hurts other people's feelings. As such we don't emphasize areas which do require dedication and work : namely sciences and math. Cable news will cater to that as well, this is the American Idol generation.

    The best thing about American Idol is that losers are shown and the winners celebrated. If we took that achievement equates to success ethic back to the schools then perhaps the kids would want something different out of the news when they grow into adults.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @08:58AM (#22782124)
    >They want to be informed when watching the news.

    No, YOU want to be informed when watching the news. Sample size of 1. Judging from the cuts in staff, cuts in schedule time and content shift seen in news programs, I'll stand by my assertion. News is either "pandering to the base", something that is shorted to fulfill guidelines or entertainment.
  • by klik ( 93694 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:02AM (#22782162)
    yes, your sarcasm is right on the mark. There are religious people who are sensible and considered, and there are scientists with strong biases. But science as a system promotes the biases being noticed and removed from the understanding of a subject, whereas religions in general do not promote that kind of understanding - a few individual religious thinkers have shown good sense ( Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo come to mind - but their philosophies were derived from Platonic thought) but most end up integrating dumb ideas in to what usually starts as a decent religion and turn it in to a self-contradictory mess.

    on the subject of the article, It would be interesting to see those sort of statistics by a regional and national breakdown. I am aware of some countries where inclination towards a scientific world view - and thus interest in the subject matter - is profoundly different to the US, where purposeful ignorance of proven fact simply because acceptance would require a change in lifestyle seems to be the norm.

    (apologies for the train-of-thought format of my post)
  • Re:Slashdot? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ngarrang ( 1023425 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:04AM (#22782178) Journal

    I personally watch a lot more drama and comedy than science myself. Does that mean I don't get enough science in my life? Well, not really, I get most of my science exposure from the internet. By the time they produce a show on it, it's already old news. I find that reading stuff online is a far better way to get my daily intake of science.
    True, the internet is more up to date, but a series like "Blue Planet" makes such science more visually appealing. This may illustrate some laziness on my part, actually. While I am not adverse to reading a book about particle physics, I enjoy sitting and NOT having to read dry text. The stuff on TV may bring up areas of knowledge I had not read. So, I guess the moral of this story is to use multiple sources.
  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:26AM (#22782374) Journal
    I'd say this statement is a reflection of the ignorance most people have about science and technology. It surrounds every facet of their lives - they're just too oblivious to realize it. From the car they drive to work, to the computer they use once they get there (be it a powerful workstation or a cash register), to the device playing music in the background, to the TV they watch at home while tucking into a microwaved dinner - science and technology is all around them.

    Most people don't recognize this fact until some piece of technology fails them. Then they wail and cry because they can't watch the latest episode of American Idol, and rail against the "scientists" who have betrayed them with a TV that's broken. Never mind that science and technology have enriched their lives, guarded them from disease and famine, advanced civilization, and allowed them to even have the freetime to squander on reality TV.

    In general, it is a fact of technology that, once it is well established, it fades into the background and doesn't register in people's minds. That's no excuse for failing to recognize its importance. That includes the media, too.
  • Re:Enticement (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pgn674 ( 995941 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @09:28AM (#22782400) Homepage
    Does /. do the same?

    I know, one liner replies suck. But, this other line commenting about the one-liner property of this post destroys said property. There's a lesson in that... ...maybe.
  • by theStorminMormon ( 883615 ) <> on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @10:21AM (#22782910) Homepage Journal
    Spec is definitely on to something here. And I think it comes down to defining religion and science in terms of their function to society as opposed to their content or methodologies.

    Inherently religion is supposed to guide people to God/salvation/enlightenment/etc. That is it's stated purpose. But in terms of historical function religion became a powerful political force and for that reason was corrupted. It was easy to exploit religious concepts (especially authority) to subvert a system ostensibly about progression into a system that was in actuality about domination. But the domination was no intrinsic to religious theology, it was intrinsic to any human institution viewed as authoritative.

    I would go even farther and say that politico-religion is directly opposed to theological-religion. It's not that there's something wrong with organized religion, per se, it's that organized religion is just too tempting a target for hijacking. And since religions have been around for several thousand years there has been a constant war of attrition as religious powers grew and encompassed political, economic, and military realms.

    The antidote to this, or so it at first appeared, was the Enlightenment and the age of reason. Science directly undercut the authority of religion by providing answers to the kinds of questions religion was supposed to provide answer to that had more explanatory power. As a result, the religious sphere of influence became drastically restricted, religious power in the political, economic, and military realms was curtailed, and therefore religion was a less potent vehicle of political domination.

    The tragedy is that science itself has come to be the new vehicle of political domination. Just as there's an inherent conflict between politico-religion and theological-religion, there's an emerging concept between politico-science and rational-science.

    So while there's a great hullaballoo about the conflict between religion and science the real conflict has always been and always will be the conflict between reason and domination. Religion has a bad name these days, and most people who speak negatively of it are referring the political version of it, the "blind faith", anti-rational version of religion. But if the definition of religion is "a series of untestable and unverifiable dogmas which are adhered to with irrational zeal" than science itself is in serious danger of becoming religion.
  • ... I really like a good science show (like an old NOVA) - but when it makes you think, it's just not what they want. ...

    In some ways it's as if we have factored out television channels from one another, such that they are each like prime numbers with as little overlap as possible ... well, as more channels get added, maybe there are very specific composites re-added, but you always know and can select the mix. For entertainment, this works out well. But we really need to see news and education as different, and work harder to give people integrated doses.

    I'd make the analogy to a diet. It's one thing to have a menu of possible desserts on the menu, it's quite another to have a menu of vitamins. To be sure, some vitamins are needed in extra doses by some people, and a few people are allergic to others. But by and large, people need their vitamins. News and science are like vitamins. People need them, whether they realize it or not. They need to know what issues are affecting them urgently and they need the raw tools for analyzing things. Confusing that with entertainment is a disaster for a democracy, which relies on informed choice.

    It seems as if many would prefer a "studied" separation from being informed to actual political autonomy. On the one hand, one would like to assume that part of personal freedom is the right to decide what one wants, but with that should come the responsibility to decide what one wants. And my impression is that people who aren't serious about staying inform fall easy prey to the manipulators, those who do practice the science of harvesting votes from the easily persuaded by indulging in them through cynical flattery the fiction that they are still participating. It's hard to point fingers at some particular case and show that it's happening, but it's easy to know that it is happening. The proof is in the strong correlation between money invested and minds changed.

    People will try to tell us that the current financial problems in the US were a big surprise. But most rationally informed people have seen this kind of thing coming for quite some time. The same scenario is playing out for climate change, and the stakes are way higher.

    Maybe Science itself needs to invest in superbowl ads and late night informercials.

    (Am I the only one who's noticed that when I submit a post lately for preview with a revised subject line, it shows my subject line in the preview and then re-fills the subject box with the old subject line, dropping my "clever" replacement? Sigh. Maybe knowledge of web science is falling off even at Slashdot central...)

  • by ponraul ( 1233704 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @12:49PM (#22784628)
    People typically don't watch cable news to learn about the latest scientific and technological advances; it's moving wall paper that they can watch while half distracted. If you really care about being informed beyond USA Today style graphs and the headlines, try a newspaper, magazine or the Internet. With the increasing availability of broadband Internet connections, functional literacy is essentially optional; there are few barriers to "learning" about pop-science or pop-technology. Complaining about the scientific content of television programming is as impotent and useful as complaining about the scientific content of a bar or the scientific content of billboards.
  • by kerohazel ( 913211 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @02:03PM (#22785580) Homepage
    This needs to be said: []

    Now, granted, it's not science *news*. But it's still science.
  • by Col Bat Guano ( 633857 ) on Tuesday March 18, 2008 @04:45PM (#22787768)
    "But if the definition of religion is "a series of untestable and unverifiable dogmas which are adhered to with irrational zeal" than science itself is in serious danger of becoming religion." And of course this is completely bass-ackwards. Religion and science are antithetical. Religion is based on untestable claims and dogma. Science is based on repeatable observations for gathering facts, and theory to provide a consistent framework to explain them. The earlier poster bemoaned the fact that religion is seen as antithetical to science, but the fundamental belief of testability in science is simply missing in religion. It would be interesting to see why science is "in serious danger of becoming a religion". I think science is great because -it works-. Religion on the other hand...

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly