BBC ‘The Link’ Documentary on Fossil Ida

Having seen ‘The Link’ documentary on the BBC last night, about the fossil Ida, I’m surprised there aren’t a lot more creationists out there than there already are. If that is the best film the best brains can make on what is, whichever way you slice it, a milestone in palaeontology, archaeology, anthropology and a human understanding of our ancestral history, we’re doomed.

It was dumbed down and scant on the facts. Plenty of artistic interpretations and fancy computer modelling, but little by way of actual explanations. Based upon the available evidence, though I’m sure it was, it wasn’t explained in the film how we know what we know. It was exactly the kind of thin on the detail story telling which fuels the imagination of those who are already predisposed to fairy-tales to submit that there are two equally valid sides to the creation story, when we know that there is only one which carries any real weight of evidence.

There’s no wonder that there is such a poor understanding of scientific methodological processes among the general public, when it would appear the world’s largest broadcaster can’t make a film about perhaps the most important artefact to be discovered in a generation, which even attempts to explain this in the context of basic taxonomy, for example; or why we already knew many years before Ida that natural selection is a water tight description of how humans evolved.

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8 comments on “BBC ‘The Link’ Documentary on Fossil Ida

  1. Jim, major television channels have been producing dumbed down overhyped drivel such as this for years. I remember a few years back there was a whole series based around what animals might evolve into if humanity were to spontaneously disappear from the face of earth. I think in the end they ‘concluded’ that octopi would become the next sentient species! I also remember a series which looked at life which could evolve on alien planets including giant whale like creatures which float around in the atmosphere of a gas giant! Not to mention the various dinosaur ‘documentaries’ which a based mainly nowadays on the latest conjecture in vogue and the liberal application of CGI! All of these shows have been presented in the style of serious documentaries!
    So I think in response to your observation I have to say whats new! They’ve been force feeding us such fictions as science for years!

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  3. All that a short documentary with a limited budget can be expected to do is present a brief overview of any particular subject from a reasonably unbiased standpoint. Some knowledge is better than no knowledge at all for the general public. The Public won’t sit through anything much heavier than this. Documentary Filmmakers don’t tell scientists how to carry out their work and neither should scientists dictate what a good documentary is. It’s not aimed at those in the know. I would challenge some of the critics to do better….

  4. I take that on-board, Gary. But it seems to me that once upon a time science documentary filmmaking was more about the evidence and research and less about the flashy graphics and dramatised dialogue.

    Is there a direct correlation between the demise of old-style science programming and the rise of pseudoscience in the public discourse? I don’t know. But it certainly used to be a lot harder for people who simply don’t understand the scientific method to have their opinions taken seriously. Whereas these days there are any number of individuals who act as if they are entitled to speak on a wide range of topics, simply because they personally disagree with the accepted view—rather than because they bring anything objectively new and productive to the conversation.

    There’s a strange and extremely worrying concept, in the collective consciousness, that to legitimately challenge any science, all you have to do is discredit the motives of the institution who carries out the study with which you take exception or the individual scientists who collated the data itself. This results in an almost automatic acceptance, in the 24 hour news media, that there must be, therefore, an “alternative theory”. It gives the appearance of respectability to naysayers simply because they insist on having a genuinely different take on the theory, without having to present any actual evidence to corroborate their claim.

    What we’re seeing with evolution denial is the same thing we’ve seen with a general public mistrust of both economics at one end and climate change at the other. There is very rarely an easy to swallow way of presenting the basic facts to people, that doesn’t in some way fundamentally dilute the enormity of what the raw data tells us in the process. So, into that void, once filled by science programming and popular accessible science literature, aimed at an audience assumed to be intelligent, rather than assumed to be of a low attention span, the flood gates are opened to anyone with a cult of personality magnetic enough to instil scepticism about scepticism in the minds of their audience; hence Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Ken Ham and an endless list of people who, in fairness, shouldn’t be allowed out of their cell, but who are assumed because of this, by a worrying number of people, to be something they simply aren’t clever enough to actually be.

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