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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Science TV Provides Drama and Knowledge

Written by Kyle Slagley

Science and drama have long been partners in mainstream television. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy hire consultants to advise on the medical aspects and shows like Homeland hire military consultants, all for the sake of being more realistic and believable. Sometimes the advice is taken; other times the consultants are ignored because, hey, is the audience really going to know if the intern doctor breaks sterile while trapped in the elevator with a dying patient?

Recently my girlfriend discovered the series Lie to Me, a show that ran on Fox from 2009-2011. In the show, lead character Dr. Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) is a leading expert in deception and lie detection. Lightman and his three co-stars work run the Lightman Group, which is contracted to help with crimes from missing persons to national security by – you guessed it – discovering when people are lying.

Lightman does all this by detecting what are called ‘micro-expressions’: instinctive flashes of emotion that appear on your face when you’re lying before you have a chance to hide them. The micro-expression method is grounded in scientific fact, and thanks to this show my girlfriend has decided that she is now an expert in lie detection and, well, let’s just say it’s led to an interesting discussion or two.

Even though I do find Lie to Me entertaining, I tend to prefer my science straight up and take my drama separately. Luckily, there are quite a few series out there that are almost purely science. Here are a few of my favorites.

How It’s Made – Since 2001, this series has been showing viewers how manufacturers make everything from stuffed olives (yes, they’re stuffed by hand) to golf balls. Each of the 250 episodes shows the process for making three or four different items. You can’t get any more real than this.

Top Shot – Your standard competition-elimination reality show, this series takes highly skilled experts in all manner of weapons and pits them against each other in contests that are based in legend (like severing a burning fuse with an old-western six shooter) or fact (a 1,000-yard shot with a .50 caliber sniper rifle).

Man vs. Wild – Adrenaline junkie and former British Special Forces Operative Bear Grylls takes on some of the most treacherous locations and life-threatening situations on Earth. The circumstances of his feats are by no means realistic, but as an outdoorsman with rudimentary survival knowledge myself, I can tell you his tips and advice are great if you can remember them.

Survivorman – If Bear Grylls is a superstar adventurer, Les Stroud is his everyman counterpart. In my not-so-humble opinion, Stroud is more awesome than Grylls because he adventures completely on his own. There are no camera crews, no medical team, no “take two,” and no lush hotel at the end of a hard day of filming. He plunks down by himself in extreme locations for five days at a time, films every shot himself, and only activates his SOS beacon in extreme emergency.

Doing Da Vinci – A disappointingly short series, this show tasks two teams with the creation of full-size, working prototypes of some of Da Vinci’s more ambitious inventions out of only materials that would have been available in the inventor’s time. Throw a few conflicting personalities into the mix for flavor and you’ve got six episodes that are a must for any history buff.

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