“Cosmos”: Sorry but Science is Boring!

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Posted March 17, 2014 by JIMMY FOWLER in Blogs
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All forward-thinking people are supposed to be aggressively pro-science and super-STEM-y these days, to keep our children primed for competition in the global arenas of engineering and biomedical research. But I can’t keep quiet any longer: Science is boring! This is true, at least, of the nuts-and-bolts basics as presented by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on his much-vaunted Cosmos reboot. No matter how many soaring spaceships or rampaging dinosaurs the producers use to distract my attention, the show strikes me numb with boredom. It’s not particularly Dr. Tyson’s fault –– though he is a surprisingly dull host –– but it is a problem educators must cop to if they truly want to make science appealing to the masses. Basic astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology –– they’re largely about measurements, quantities, qualities, causes, and effects. They’re about the painstaking early stages of gathering and observing raw data, laying the foundation so the imagination can develop and test hypotheses about the way our world works.

I’ve been avoiding the unpalatable obvious, but to put it bluntly, most sciences are about math. Dr. Tyson and his Cosmos cohorts might better spend their time making integers and eigenvalues sexy rather than trying to hypnotize kids with molecules and light years, concepts that are less dazzling than vague and slippery for most minds.

To use an elegant metaphor: If the natural world was a Hostess snack cake, then people could be divided into two groups –– those who study Ding Dongs, and those who eat Ding Dongs. The Ding Dong theorists fetishize the recipe. They get deep into the quality and proportions of ingredients, the different origins of (cheap) chocolate used, the weird solid-liquid compound that comprises the cream filling, etc. The Ding Dong eaters don’t care about any of that. They’re not interested in whether the frosting contains leftover atoms from Paleolithic-era woolly mammoths, or if tiny subatomic strings vibrate to keep the cake moist. They want to open the package, breathe in the aroma, and sensually experience the Ding Dong until, to paraphrase a great writer, it can’t be un-Ding Donged.

That’s the team I’m on. Your job is to entice me to the other side, Dr. Tyson. Good luck.

Follow my random, unscientific twitterings @FowlerJimmy


16 Comments


  1.  
    Randall

    Like, OMG, Like, there was, like, this stupid show on like, science and like, stuff and you know like, it was like, so boring like, it was all about, like *facts* and *stuff that’s real* and barely like, had anyone anyone shopping for cute shoes or two guys fighting over who had the best spray tan! Like, BOOORRRIINNNG!




  2.  
    MrWalrusQ

    I feel very sorry for you Mr. Fowler. I am curious as to what television programs you find NOT boring. I’m assuming it’s programs like Wipe-Out or The Real Housewives of Someplace. Correct me if I’m wrong.




  3.  
    MrWalrusQ

    I feel very sorry for you Mr. Fowler. I am curious as to what television programs you find NOT boring. I’m assuming it’s programs like Wipe-Out tor The Real Housewives of Someplace. Correct me if I’m wrong.




  4.  
    Sam

    Reading this makes me sick to my stomach. Not because someone has a different opinion than I do, but because I realize there’s countless numbers out there with the same cognitive bias. Listen Jimmy, you aren’t getting enticed to any other side, ever. You won’t let it happen. You’ve made up your mind.




  5.  
    Anon

    JIMMY!!!!!
    Jimmy…Jimmy…Jimmy…..

    JIM—MEEEE!!!!!

    They say you are what you are what you eat /// DING DONG




  6.  
    Matt

    If you’re going to wait for ideas/concepts to appeal to you in a way you understand them, you’ll be waiting a long time. Sometimes, you have to take an idea/concept and adapt it to a way that you understand.

    In other ways, sometimes it takes work. And using an excuse that something is “boring” is nothing more than laziness. If this country focused more on critical thinking and logic in grade school, our children would probably be more intellectually curious than they are now. Maybe someday in the future…




  7.  
    BTC Vega

    You people criticizing the author are not getting it. He’s playing devil’s advocate. He is making some really important points: students are simply not motivated to study science and math because the basic tools and methodologies of these disciplines are boring and unglamorous, especially when juxtaposed against sports, fashion and show-biz.

    This is a real challenge for our society and educational system. Perhaps we need to look at cultures that do excel in math and science – say Korea, China or Germany, and figure out what it is that they do differently?




  8.  
    Carl

    It doesn’t matter if most people find science boring. Cosmos only needs to inspire one kid to grow up and create Skynet and then it will be all worth the effort.




  9.  
    mary

    I like science, but this show is just too dumbed down for words. Oh, except for the word “boring”.




  10.  
    Roya M

    Wow…Mr. Fowler. Since you might have a more “general public” kinda taste, then maybe…you should write about TMZ, The Bachelor/ette and other mindless shows on TV/




  11.  
    Corey

    This is why the other countries are winning.




  12.  
    Hans

    To those criticizing the author, I am going to really question whether or not you’ve ever been involved in actual scientific research.

    Writing grant proposals is boring and tedious. For the most part, conducting experiments is about rigorously controlling variables and taking careful measurements. Then apply statistical analysis. Does that sound exciting to you?

    Have you ever done least squares regression analysis in excel? It fucking sucks, especially when you’re first learning it.

    The fact is that science IS boring! The results can be extremely exciting, and change dramatically improve our understanding of the world, and the quality of our lives. But actually earning that knowledge? It’s a hard, boring, slow process. That doesn’t make it any less important, but at least acknowledge that most of it ain’t fun.




  13.  
    David

    I agree, maybe not for the same reasons.

    I love science and I never watched Sagan’s Cosmos, so I am not biased.
    But, I have to admit that Cosmos is sleep inducing, the pace is slow, morose and Tyson sounds more like a funeral director than a science popularizer. I tried to watch (and stay awake during) the first two episodes….and I couldn’t. CGI is nice but was not enough to keep me interested.

    Nothing new, only a reheat of leftovers…

    I rather watch science videos in youtube.




  14.  
    mayor mikey

    Why are the security math problems required before leaving comments on here alway so hard?
    Why can’t they instead be questions like “what color is red?” or “what does the Fox say?” and things along that line.

    “Cosmos” would be more interesting if Mike Tyson hosts and narrates it. Scientific research would be more appealing if underwear models are assigned to work as assistants. Jimmy’s posts would be more substantive if it included illustrations using stick figure drawings.

    Live long and prosper. Or just “live” since the other parts involve math.




  15.  
    Daniel

    Jimmy:

    I completely agree with you on how boring this show is. I am a scientist and I can see how science may seem boring, but Cosmos is like a Valium. Tyson is a dull host and I forced myself to watch the first three episodes, hoping that The Walking Dead would enter at any moment into the show and rip Mr. Tyson’s head off or bite him on the neck to put some interest into this dreadful program.





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