The Art of Science: Emmys Celebrate Fascination with Science Fact and Fiction

Last night, the TV-lovers among us celebrated some of the more popular potrayals of science on the small screen:

"Breaking Bad," winner for Outstanding Drama, features a chemistry teacher who turns to a life of crime. "The Big Bang Theory," an Outstanding Comedy Series nominee and winner of Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series (Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper), has gotten yuks for years, even while featuring whiteboards covered in actual physics formulas. BBT's nerd-centric cousin and newcomer "Silicon Valley," a nominee in five categories, celebrates the often unheralded software coder. "Mythbusters," with its unabashed advocacy of science via explosions and makeshift cannons, scored its fifth consecutive nomination in the Reality Television category (as well as its fifth consecutive loss). And Outstanding Animated Program nominee "Futurama" (now canceled) offers a twisted and comedic take on what science might be like in the 31st century.

Many science fans have appreciated the representation, from Popular Science’s 6 Best Science Lessons From Breaking Bad  (complete with the disclaimer “We do not endorse cooking meth, making explosives, or mixing poisons”) to Wired’s TV Fact-Checker: Dropping Science on The Big Bang Theory.

What’s strange to me is how far away these science topics seem. A "Breaking Bad" binge-watching left me with new knowledge on cooking pure meth and dissolving a dead body. Happily, these wouldn’t classify as instances of science in my everyday life (and hopefully the same is true for most of our readers). Most of "Big Bang’s" science deals with either space or subatomic particles, far from our day-to-day existence. Ok, I guess subatomic particles are technically an intimate part of our existence, but they wouldn’t exactly be top-of-mind. 

We tend to see a lot less of the science that goes into our daily lives- our soaps, our car engines, and definitely our food. Outlets from Slate to Dartmouth University have cautioned us against ‘chemophobia’ and resisting science in food. In his TED Talk, Michael Specter says, “The idea that we should not allow science to do its job because we’re afraid is really very deadening, and it’s preventing millions of people from prospering.” Without science and technology, there are a number of amazing things about food that we'd miss, from fortified foods delivering the nutrients we need, to keeping healthy produce from spoiling out-of-season with drying and canning, to a simple cup of yogurt.

My dream breakout-hit next year would feature food scientists working around the clock to discover a brilliant innovation that solves world hunger (or keeps my tomatoes from going bad in my fruit bowl). Hopefully, science in pop culture can work its way a little closer to home and start showing off all the great non-meth things that science has to offer.

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