Why science on TV NEEDS to be fake.

Whoa. Stop reading my lab book, CSI.

Like any other scientist I’m sure, I find myself watching tv shows like CSI or Bones saying “Pffft. That’s so fake.”. But if you think about it, there’s a reason that science on tv needs to be fake: watching someone do ‘real’ science would bore the hell out of anyone. Even PBS and the Discovery Channel only use time-lapse photography when they are showing something ‘sciency’. People often ask me what it is exactly that I do all day. When my answer of “I set up an infection, subbed some cells and did a qRT-PCR” is met with a blank stare I realize they mean “how do you physically occupy your time?”. So to truly emphasize how boring real science and to give curious minds an idea of how I spend my days I thought I’d give some descriptions of what I say I’m doing versus what I’m actually doing.

“Did a qRT-PCR”: Spent two hours mixing together barely measurable volumes of clear liquid then shoved it into a machine for 4 hours.

“Went to lab meeting”: Sat in a darkened room intermittently fighting sleep, doodling extravagant versions of Jurassic Park filled with my own imaginary dinosaurs that all have smiley faces and just want to be cuddled, and gorging on muffins/donuts/bagels. Ok, sometimes I draw flowers too. They’re pretty.

“Did a restriction digest”: Mixed together barely measurable volumes of clear liquid then stuck it in an incubator for a few hours. (Later I will dye this blue, run it through a gel with an electric current, cut it out of the gel, melt it, put it through a filter and finally……resuspend it more barely measurable volumes of clear liquid).

“Did some reading”: Checking facebook, writing my blog, reading other people’s blogs or staring blankly at my computer screen willing it to produce something entertaining.

“Subbed my cells”: Lifted all my cells off the piece of plastic they were growing on, resuspended them in red (exciting!!!) liquid, threw some away and finally….stuck them back to the piece of plastic they were growing on.

“Worked on my fellowship application”: Checking facebook, writing my blog, reading other people’s blogs or staring blankly at my computer screen willing it to produce something entertaining.

“Helped out with lab cleanup day”: Did a qRT-PCR, went to someone’s lab meeting (anyone’s!), did some reading, subbed my cells, worked on my fellowship application. Anything to avoid helping with lab cleanup day.

Hmmm, you know. Perhaps after reading this blog the writers for some of these shows will get a hold of me to help them jazz up their scripts! So I think it’s clear why tv science has to be fake. The only thing for which I can’t seem to think of an explanation is why the heck it’s always so dark in labs on tv?! Besides the obvious explanation that everyone knows all the greatest discoveries are made in the dark (!), perhaps it just makes all the glowing reagents and holographic recreations look that much cooler. Maaaaaaaaaan, my reagents are so lame. You have to excite them with a laser to make them glow. And even then you need to be looking under a microscope to see them. Booooooooooooooooring. 😉

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10 Responses to Why science on TV NEEDS to be fake.

  1. rose says:

    funny!!!!! I “write fellowship applications” and “read” a lot too 🙂

  2. Jodi says:

    Wow! That sounds almost as exciting as my day! It’s so glamorous being a resort owner. Today I got to argue with some bureaucrats, scrub some toilets, make some beds, do some laundry, scrub some more toilets, chat up some nice guests, pretend to be interested in what some boring guests had to say, pretend to understand fishing, do some more laundry…..you get the picture. But then, tv even makes lifeguarding sound exciting. Good thing real lifeguards don’t have to save a life every 43 minutes!

  3. Dr.Clank says:

    Maybe you chose the wrong kind of science. When I was a scientist (well, a scientist’s assistant at any rate – irrelevant given that the scientist himself was doing the same thing) I was trudging across the tundra fending off polar bears with a 12 gauge shotgun and trying to hold my tent together whilst being pummeled by 95kph arctic winds.

    On the other hand, I totally get what you’re saying. Have you ever watched a spy movie with a spy? Evidently, spy movies aren’t realistic either.

  4. Jodi says:

    You guys ruin everything

  5. Angela Richardson says:

    No wonder we used to have to entertain ourselves with throwing mini liquid nitrogen bombs into the Stoltz lab 😉

  6. Kate says:

    Finally someone admits that this is what actually happens day to day! I’ve tried to explain to my friends what my labwork is like (I’m an undergrad working in a biology lab), but they’re set on their rather skewed image. In a 4 hour long procedure, there’s maybe an hours worth of actual work being done, and the rest is just waiting. Lots of “reading” takes place during that time.
    Your way of describing it is both more realistic and funny

  7. Your Boss says:

    I’d like to have a performance conversation with you on monday please.

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