Science on American Television: A History

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9780226921990: Science on American Television: A History
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As television emerged as a major cultural and economic force, many imagined that the medium would enhance civic education for topics like science. And, indeed, television soon offered a breathtaking banquet of scientific images and ideas - both factual and fictional. Mr. Wizard performed experiments with milk bottles. Viewers watched live coverage of solar eclipses and atomic bomb blasts. Television cameras followed astronauts to the moon, Carl Sagan through the Cosmos, and Jane Goodall into the jungle. But what promised to be a wonderful way of presenting science to huge audiences turned out to be a disappointment, argues historian Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette in "Science on American Television". LaFollette narrates the history of science on television, from the 1940s to the turn of the twenty-first century, to demonstrate how disagreements between scientists and television executives inhibited the medium's potential to engage in meaningful science education. In addition to examining the content of shows, she also explores audience and advertiser responses, the role of news in engaging the public in science, and the making of scientific celebrities.

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Review:

"To the chagrin of scientists, modern populations are not well-informed about science--its nature, its method, and its content--and Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette seeks to show why. She introduces us to sages, pundits, intellectual prizefighters, and mandarin scientists, some shy and apolitical and others relishing the chance to appear on television; producers with an eye for what goes well on the medium; and sponsors who foot the bill and eye the audience numbers. Rooted in sixty years of television history, in which there have been some great successes but where the overall story is of hopes disappointed, she tells a fascinating story of attempts to get those millions of viewers, who are paying for science through taxes and purchases, to love it."--David Knight, Durham University

"[A] well researched, thought-provoking book."--Eugenie Scott "Nature "

"A fascinating and compelling story of the dance between science and television over the decades. This beautifully written and solidly researched account of scientists, scientific institutions, and the world of television is a wonderful story and also one of profound importance because of the centrality of science to the future of our nation and world. Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette has produced that rarity: a work of great scholarship that is as accessible as television itself."--Thomas Lovejoy, George Mason University

"[A]n informative, well-documented history of science, scientists, and American television. Those who wonder why so little meaningful science programming exists on television will find that this book details the reasons. . . . Recommended."--C. L. Clements, Richland College "Choice "

"[I]t is most valuable to have LaFollette's book; here we have the basis for understanding what happened in American science television, a huge lacuna in the literature up until now."--Tim Boon, Science Museum, London "British Journal for the History of Science "

[A] well researched, thought-provoking book. --Eugenie Scott "Nature ""

[A]n informative, well-documented history of science, scientists, and American television. Those who wonder why so little meaningful science programming exists on television will find that this book details the reasons. . . . Recommended. --C. L. Clements, Richland College "Choice ""

[I]t is most valuable to have LaFollette s book; here we have the basis for understanding what happened in American science television, a huge lacuna in the literature up until now. --Tim Boon, Science Museum, London "British Journal for the History of Science ""

To the chagrin of scientists, modern populations are not well-informed about science its nature, its method, and its content and Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette seeks to show why. She introduces us to sages, pundits, intellectual prizefighters, and mandarin scientists, some shy and apolitical and others relishing the chance to appear on television; producers with an eye for what goes well on the medium; and sponsors who foot the bill and eye the audience numbers. Rooted in sixty years of television history, in which there have been some great successes but where the overall story is of hopes disappointed, she tells a fascinating story of attempts to get those millions of viewers, who are paying for science through taxes and purchases, to love it. --David Knight, Durham University"

What many scholars attempt to do, Marcel LaFollette accomplishes. Picking up where "Science on the Air" left off, "Science on American Television" explores the peculiar relationship between broadcast television and popular science education, and its history of false starts, wrong turns, and cultural touchstones. --Matthew H. Hersch, University of Pennsylvania"

About the Author:

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian based in Washington, DC. She is the author of several books, including Science on the Air and Making Science Our Own.

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