Rough Science

The new Rough Science programme, airing locally on the Boston PBS station on Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m. starting yesterday, is a breath of fresh air.

The premise is this: take 5 scientists, put them on a desert island, and give them a set of tasks to accomplish in 3 days using only found objects.

Last night, for example, one group was charged with making a scale map of the north shore of the Island, another group with making paper, a pen, and ink to draw the map, and the final group with making a sound recording device.

Obviously mindful of the danger of being classed with Survivor and its progeny in the public mind, the presenter of the show makes it clear up front that this is all being done in the spirit of cooperation: this isn’t a contest, nobody gets “voted off the Island” and there is no million dollar prize motivating the scientists.

It’s all quite entertaining and educational. And perhaps the best advertisement for science as a career for curious people that television has yet come up with.

One of the problems with science education — and one of the reasons I’m not a scientist — is that it takes years and years to get to the point where you’re actually allowed to do something that remotely resembles science. In other words, something where you’re faced with a problem, a scientific method, and let loose to see what you can see. Most often science education in schools involves either rote study of the history of scientific discoveries or pretend role-play science where either the questions or the answers or both are known, obvious, and of no relevance to the student.

Rough Science shows science “in the raw” and setting it in a remote island location strips the scientists of the lab coats, test tubes and urge to speak in tongues. The programme gets to the root of why science is interesting, and that’s not something that we civilians get to see to often. Highly recommended.


peter w's picture
peter w on November 5, 2002 - 15:48 Permalink

I ran across on BBC World here in Australia a couple of months ago. Great stuff. Another point that it’s unlike Survivor and all its ilk is that the folks on this are obviously having a ball. The episode where they make a camera is excellent — none of them is dull.