I don’t know… Maybe it is because I just finished reading Ben Oldacre’s great book ‘Bad Science‘… Maybe that is why it was a poor week for the BBC to have coincided airing it’s latest leading science TV show ‘Horizon.’
Maybe I was framing the show with more than an air of scepticism (negative framing sure to be enhanced by the way they portrayed hypnois in a ridiculously pseudo-scientific way last year too) …
Anyway, this episode of Horizon was attempting to scientifically demonstrate the relationship between the brain and violence. If you missed it and you are a UK BBC license fee payer, you’ll be able to find it on BBC’s iPlayer I am sure.
Though, I think it is pointless watching it and the way the BBC (and most popular media) use science in this way… We get ‘ex-spurts’ telling us that science proves things… But they do not tell us how… It is so utterly lame… Let me explain…
Now then, once I had gotten over the fact that the show was being presented by former Tory MP Michael Portillo… One of Thatchers golden boys, embarassingly defeated, losing his parlimentary seat in the 1997 general election, who was actually quite agreeable on this programme… I could get focused on the show itself…
The BBC can be so pompous sometimes… This is a cornerstone of influence in the UK… The BBC was once our only main national TV network, something we feel attached to because we pay a license for the priviledge of watching it… And in Horizon, they are proudly communicating the cutting edge of brain research.
I foolishly expected something elightening and cutting edge.
They did that thing that they tend to do these days… It seems to be fashionable in this sort of TV show… I can imagine a producer in the editing room saying “oh yes, we need a multi-coloured 3D glowing graphic of the brain now please… And rotate it… ”
Not just happy with this brain graphic, they then show some supposed neurons growing arms and legs and let the viewer suppose that it meant something!
Yet there was no explanation of what this meant, or what was going on! Why not?! The fancy 3D images they show are completely unlike an actual brain in so many ways, yet the viewer is presumed not to need to know anymore and that we should take the word of the scientist and narrator for granted, because they are ‘scientifically’ proving stuff to us.
One of the most important points of this TV experience, I mean the cutting edge discovery they were sharing with us were as follows:
That people can enjoy violence.
Brilliant. I had no idea. I am guessing that films glorifying violence, books on gangsters of our time, football hooliganism, Saturday nights disillusioned youth, is something the BBC thinks has bypassed the minds of Horizon viewers and anyone interested in science.
They did add to that though: “the rush we get from dopamine can get us physically addicted to violence”. They supported this sweeping statement by interviewing one single bloke who said he used to be a fight addict. He was the evidence for the shows statement that the dopamine gets people physically addicted to scrapping.
Forget them showing tested and measured levels of dopamine in someone’s system before and after a violent episode… Oh no, they’ve got a bloke to subjectively give us his anecdotal evidence.
This show is going under the guise of being scientific!
Isn’t there a huge amount of audacity in the way they make assumptions about what we need to be shown in a programme like this?
Ok, so they may worry that too much scientific stuff might cause us all to drift into hypnotic trances… Or switch over… But then why insist on showing scientific break-through’s if you are not going to show the actual science in depth?
Take this statement fromt he show for example: “Fighting is a primeval pleasure controlled by the frontal part of the brain.”
How does this now contribute to our understanding of why people enjoy violence? They just expect us to view the show through a pair of spurious scientific authority specs… That is no way near as catchy as the term -rose-tinted specs’ is it?
Ahem… So what are the reasons for this seeming insistence that science has all the answers?
Would I just be better off not expecting any brain stimulation from my TV license? Am I just better off using my TV to series link record Lost, Heroes, 24 and my other favourite shows?
maybe it is because last week I read Ben Goldacre’s book, as I said, and the issue of scientific authority is standing out in my mind… Because it is used to virtually switch off any further discussion. At least in this programme it was.
If a scientist says “the prefrontal cortex controls aggression” we are expected to readily believe it… Hypnotically accept the suggestion because the scientist said so… Regardless that the scientist does not tell us HOW!
BBC — I want to know how! Where is the scientific principle of open enquiry, which encourages questioning and debate? The scientists want my job, don;t they? They just want to hypnotise folk…
Clearly, I am in need of a holiday… Which is precisely what I am doing as of tomorrow… I’ll be back in just over a week or so… Don’t miss me too much 🙂
Don’t worry, Adam, we won’t not miss you too much, will we.
Have a great holiday.
Thank you Andrew, I can always depend on you to reassure me 🙂
You should check out the TV show “Lie To Me”. I think you would enjoy it.
Other than that, I would advise some caution with Ben Goldacre. He’s not the most objective person ever. He is not someone capable of going against mainstream science, no matter how flawed it may be, in my opinion. But I’m one of those people he likes to call “AIDS denialist”. So it’s your call. 🙂