Fact Beats Fiction: The Best TV Shows Teaching Science
We could all stand to learn a little more science. Science governs our day-to-day lives, and understanding how the world works is one way to be more appreciative of everything around us, both now and in the future.
Arguably, the most interesting ideas in science are those that occur in the field of science fiction , mostly because those are the kinds of ideas that we’ve yet to see with our own eyes. After all, who wouldn’t be flabbergasted by a real-life hologram experience , as seen on Star Trek?
But science fiction is still fiction, and sometimes fact is wilder than fiction. Rather than fawning over what could be, we should be marveling at what we already know. The next time you turn on your TV, consider watching these real science shows instead. You won’t regret it.
Bill Nye the Science Guy
Let’s just get this one out of the way, shall we? Bill Nye the Science Guy is the quintessential science show of today’s generation. There probably isn’t a single child who grew up in the 1990s and had access to a TV that hasn’t heard of Bill Nye and his whimsical antics.
This 30-minute-long educational show features topical episodes that explore the various phenomena of the world — covering everything from earth science to biology, from ecological systems to Newtonian physics — and often involving visual explanations and hand-wrought experiments that clarify concepts to the viewer.
It aired on PBS Kids between 1993 and 1998 for a total of 100 episodes over five seasons. Today, you can watch all of the episodes on the Bill Nye YouTube channel [No Longer Available].
For a grown-up version of Bill Nye, you should tune into Nova. It also airs on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), which has been the case since 1974, and continues to produce new episodes to this day. By the summer of 2015, there will be 788 episodes available across 42 seasons.
This 60-minute-long show delves into all kinds of scientific areas, including quantum physics, practical mathematics, historical earth events, climate change, ancient mummies, and more. Nova has won numerous Peabody Awards and Emmy Awards over the years.
In 2005, PBS launched a news-based spin-off titled Nova scienceNOW that covers contemporary advances in science. It takes a more lighthearted and humorous approach than the serious Nova.
Full episodes of Nova can be watched on the Nova YouTube channel.
In 2014, Fox launched a new TV-documentary series called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the spiritual follow-up to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage from 1980. This show, which seems like it should air on PBS based on how informative it is, is a must-watch no matter who you are.
Host, and eminent astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson takes viewers on a 13-episode journey that explores the universe. Starting from its theoretical beginning and traveling all the way to its theoretical end. The format is designed to walk the careful line between mass appeal and proper science, presenting concepts in a progressively incremental manner.
At the time of writing, the full series is available to watch on Netflix.
Some people don’t think that nature shows qualify as science shows. I beg to differ. There’s a lot of wonderful scientific goodness to be found in nature — e.g. geological formations, ecosystem development, animal behaviors, weather patterns, etc.
And if you’re looking for the ultimate nature show, look no further than Planet Earth, which debuted in 2006 on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).
Planet Earth is a marvelous masterpiece that is just 11 episodes long (60-minutes apiece) but took five years to plan and shoot. It’s the first nature documentary to be shot in high-definition and currently holds the record for the most expensive nature documentary ever created. No other show in its class will give you quite the same experience.
“Wait a minute… Good Eats isn’t a science show!” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’d technically be right. Good Eats is a cooking show on the Food Network, but after a few episodes you’ll realize that it’s more of a science-behind-the-cooking show.
In each 30-minute-long episode, Alton Brown takes a particular topic — e.g. potatoes, chicken, brownies, etc. — and delves into the underlying science that makes or breaks each component.
Of course there are other considerations too, such as what kind of equipment to buy, but even those segments are based on science in one way or another. With 200+ episodes available, you’re guaranteed to learn a LOT about food science with this show.
Not everyone has access to the National Geographic Channel, also known as NatGeo, but those who do should tune in every once in a while to check out Brain Games. This awesome show is a great way to catch up on popular science and popular psychology.
These 60-minute-long episodes cover all sorts of topics, such as the tricky nature of optical illusions, how easily our attentions can be misdirected, and the physiological differences between males and females.
Admittedly the show can be a bit cheesy at times, but the information is solid (as far as popular science can be solid, anyway) and it’s presented in a way that’s compelling to watch. I recommend it, even if it’s just on to provide background noise while you browse the Web.
How It’s Made
The How It’s Made series isn’t so much about traditional science, but rather practical science. It’s a documentary look at the behind-the-scenes manufacturing processes that are required to produce the things that we use in everyday life.
Although it originally began its run in 2001 on the Discovery Channel, How It’s Made now airs on the Science Channel. By the end of 2015, there will be 325 episodes across 25 seasons (strangely enough, some years aired more than one season).
What’s great about this show is how it pulls back the curtain on things we take for granted. It’s always an eye-opening experience to see the effort and resources necessary to create screwdrivers, olive oil, leather, alcohol, etc.
Individual segments can be watched on the How It’s Made Youtube channel [No Longer Available].
Where Else Can You Learn Science?
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to cable television. While some of these shows can be watched online, they may be locked behind regional filters (though there are always ways to get around that ). Assuming you don’t want to torrent as a last resort , what other options are out there?
These science channels on YouTube are a good place to start. If you want to supplement them, consider dropping by these websites for scientific answers . Both are viable options, but do try to watch the above listed shows as well if you can. They’re well worth the effort.
What are your favorite scientific TV shows? Do you agree that these are currently the best available? Or are there any other great ones that we missed? Alternatively, are there any shows that should be avoided? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Image Credits: Science On TV via Shutterstock