Confessions of an Anonymous Coward

Friday, March 23, 2007

Award-Worthy Television

One of the agenda items of the last Independent Investigations Group meeting I didn't mention in my previous post about the subject was the discussion of the IIG Awards.

Briefly, the IIG Awards are to be given to television shows and individuals who best exemplified the skeptical viewpoint--or its opposite. There will be four awards given, one each for best and worst shows and individuals.

The idea is to invite the awardees, and representatives from the winning shows, to come and accept their award in person, and to have a whole ceremony about it. Probably it's not going to be that big a deal this year, but this is the first year it's being done; the hope, I think, is that it will build up over time.

The nominees for this year's awards don't have many surprises; I'd post the full list here except that I, uh, seem to have misplaced it. But anyway, last week I think I saw a show that I'm definitely going to nominate for next year's award for worst show.

I don't watch much TV--rather for financial reasons than because of any lofty intellectual high-mindedness; I just can't really afford cable TV right now, and I don't have good enough reception to get even the network channels reliably without it. (Not that there's much I'd be interested in watching on the network channels anyway.) But I happened to be visiting at my parents' house last Thursday, and they had the TV tuned to the History Channel. And a show came on that doesn't really have much to do with history, or with anything else outside of pseudoscientific nonsense.

The show in question was called "Decoding the Past - Earth's Black Hole". And it was--well, heck, rather than try to describe it myself, I think I'll quote straight from the History Channel webpage's description:

Explore with us the wonders and mysteries of the Black Holes in our universe. Is it possible that areas on earth might, in fact, show black hole like tendencies? We take a hard scientific look at an area known as the Bermuda Triangle to see if there are indeed any similarities between the supposed forces in the triangle and the destructive force of a black hole. From a research boat trip through the triangle to interviews with scientists at the US Geological Survey, Harvard University, and the UK's Cardiff University, we go far beyond the event horizon to explore the dangers in this area and what relation they might indeed have with its counterpoint in space.

Okay. Outside the fact that the show took the thoroughly debunked Bermuda Triangle myth at face value, it was just chock full of bad science and ridiculous arguments. At one point the idea was advanced that the Bermuda Triangle and a similar area off the Asian coast might be connected by a wormhole. Why? Apparently for no better reason than that there were similar myths about the two areas, and the show's writers thought wormholes sounded cool. Certainly there was no attempt whatsoever to explain why a wormhole might have caused any of the phenomena that supposedly occurred in either location.

But the single worst bit, I think, not that the rest of the show was much better, was when the show brought up white holes, implying that they might be behind the creation of new crust in the oceanic trenches. Leaving aside the fact that white holes are purely theoretical mathematical concepts which almost certainly don't exist in the real world (although the producers of the show seemed unaware of this, and spouted the popular but outdated idea that a white hole is the "other end" of a black hole, where all the matter that falls into the black hole is ejected from), claiming that anything so exotic is necessary to explain the creation of new crust is ludicrous. The processes behind the creation of new crust in the oceanic trenches are very well understood; they're formed by the cooling and solidification of upwelling magma as tectonic plates move apart. Likening the moving of preexisting matter to the creation of matter ex nihilo, or the bringing of matter from other universes, is completely absurd--yet that seems to be the entirety of the argument in the show, that because white holes produce matter they may be behind the production of new crust. That kind of bad reasoning would be out of place in an elementary school science fair.

Like I said, I don't watch much TV. I haven't seen many programs on the History Channel. But if "Decoding the Past - Earth's Black Hole" is at all representative, it doesn't seem like I'm missing much. Then again, it's not about history, the channel's nominal focus, and maybe when it comes to actual history the channel's better at picking programs that get their facts and arguments straight. If that's the case, the History Channel really ought to stick with what it knows.

So, anyway, that's going to be a nominee for next year's IIG Awards for worst program. Though the year is still young; it's possible something even worse will yet turn up--though it would take some doing to be worse than that utter pile of nonsense.


At 3/25/2007 2:10 PM, Blogger Qalmlea said...

The history channel seems to be roughly 50% WWII, 25% junk like you've just described, and 25% nicely done programs. Some times of year are worse than others for junk programming. Usually around Christmas and Easter they show mostly biblical stuff. Occasionally there's a nice skeptical piece. More often, it's just garbage.

At 3/26/2007 2:59 PM, Anonymous Fatboy said...

I agree that Decoding the Past is bad. One show that I do like, though, is National Geographic's Is It Real? I've only seen a few of the episodes, but the ones I have seen are pretty good. They spend about the first half of the show listening to the paranormal/supernatural claims, and then the rest of the show talking to various scientists and other experts to get the real story.

Hmm, after just having followed the link I provided, I wonder if they're running out of ideas. That vampire episode doesn't look all that great.

At 3/29/2007 11:03 AM, Blogger Bronze Dog said...

Just the description of that show was painful to read.

I used to enjoy just about everything the History Channel was showing when I first started getting it, even with the high WWII ratio. The woo ratio, however, has be climbing very steadily, though, and it gets even worse during the holidays.

At 3/30/2007 12:36 AM, Anonymous john said...

I have gone through the above article and it is interesting and I appreciate to the author and I to have a link related to refer with more information. and I feel it will be helpful to mysteries

At 4/26/2007 7:33 PM, Blogger An Anonymous Coward said...

"Helpful" in the sense that it gives us more ridiculous nonsense to poke fun at, perhaps...


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