When I say ‘we’, I actually mean ‘I’.
Is pop science guilty of oversimplification and sometimes misinformation? Absolutely yes.
Should we get rid of it? Over my rotting, maggot-infested, bloated dead body.
Because I grew up watching Bill Nye and reading those Indonesian-translations of foreign science books (encyclopaedias included), I ended up loving natural sciences. I was mesmerised by how they guided me to unearth and cherish the allure of the universe. Together with my favourite films, they made my childhood magical.
My love of them started diminishing when I started studying them in schools. There was no more sense of awe and inquisitiveness, there was only obligation to memorise things for the grades; many others studied them because they wanted to look smart. For me, natural sciences had mutated into lifeless entities programmed to make robots out of us.
If it wasn’t for access to cable TV and the internet, my relationships with them would end like mine with math: dead with zero change of resurrection. The documentaries on Discovery, NatGeo and the BBC persistently illuminated the dying flame in me throughout my school years.
Of course, as I said in the beginning, pop science is guilty of oversimplification and misinformation and one may argue my understanding of science is deeply-flawed.
It is indeed a reasonable counter-argument. But, after becoming an internet addict, my favourite pop science works are now on Youtube; despite their imperfections, channels like Kurzgesagt, ASAPScience, Aspect Science, MinuteEarth, It’s Okay To Be Smart, PBS Eons and SciShow have upped my appreciation of science.
They have shown me how science is never about knowing absolute facts; instead, science is all about constantly enhancing our prevailing knowledge and acknowledges that even our physical world is full of greyness. Combined with their willingness to rectifying their own past content, they have also shown how science is all about embracing healthy scepticism (not to be confused with accusing everything of being a conspiracy).
As wonderful as they are, the books and documentaries I grew up with failed to show the wonderful nuances. While this can be attributed to my then-undeveloped brain, they do mostly focus on absolute facts and very little on the intricacies.
If you ask me ‘should we get rid of pop science?’ again, my answer would still be ‘over my rotting, maggot-infested, bloated dead body’. But, I would also say we need media watchdogs.
Yes, we have been having them since forever. But, even though I can’t say if there is a shortage of them, I can definitely say we need lots of them and we need them to distribute their findings to the masses rather than being content about having niche ‘audiences’.
Correlating to the topic in question, I believe every media watchdog must have at least two teams dedicated to scrutinise works of science journalism and pop science: one specialises in medicine and one for the other disciplines.
I want to emphasise on medicine because medical quackery is arguably the most dangerous form of pseudoscience. No matter how frustrating creationism or flat earth myth can be, I have never heard anyone getting physical harmed because of them. But, I do have heard of people getting physically harmed by scientifically unproven or debunked treatments.
I believe getting rid of pop science is a bad idea. There will always be shitty teachers who fail to show the beauty of natural sciences and their roles in profoundly shaping humanity. As flawed as pop science can be, it knows how to make science captivating for the laypeople to learn about.
If there is no pop science, they would definitely be more people who see their favourite preachers, conspiracists and snake oil salespeople as their ‘science teachers’.
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