"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Over The Horizon

Oh my stars, what was I thinking? I was about to switch off the TV when I saw that the BBC programme Horizon was about to start with an edition called “Is Everything We Know About The Universe Wrong?” I should have known better, the title itself was a giveaway but no, not me, I was suckered in.

Now it used to be that back in the day, Horizon was an informative and essential part of my education on things scientific. However, for at least the last 5 years if not longer, it’s just been plain rubbish and I deliberately stopped watching it about a year or so ago, however tantalising the subject.

Like so many other documentaries made today, it’s full of repetitive, annoying and pointless picture distortions and deliberately unsteady camera work, repetitive, annoying and useless graphics that don’t illuminate the point being made and narrations that are often inaccurate or simply plain wrong and pitted with exaggerated claims and statements along the lines of “all the history/physics/astronomy books will have to be re-written” or “everything we’ve ever thought about x/y/z is wrong”. AAAGGGHHH!!!

Anyway, that’s why I had stopped watching Horizon. However, on this occasion I was intrigued enough by the introduction to keep it on. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for all the regulars to put in an appearance, dodgy camera work, silly graphics, pointless and repetitive imagery, over blown statements in the narration...all the usual suspects present and incorrect. But I stuck with it because of the one small snippet of new scientific info they let slip right at the start (the so called “dark flow” and the apparent movement of a large number of galaxies in the same direction, off to a single point in the universe). Any time now they’ll get to it, I thought, and I’ll be just that little bit better informed about one of my favourite subjects. Oh no, not Horizon, not these days, that would be too much to ask for. No, they kept me waiting to the last 5 minutes of the programme before referring to it again, with me shouting at the telly every few minutes.

And guess what, when they actually got there, when they finally got to the whole point of the programme, they completely failed to tackle the subject with any degree of substance. I’ve just looked “dark flow” up on the interweb and in the space of about 5 minutes of reading an article on the New Scientist website, I feel I have a pretty good grasp on the idea. So I’ve wasted another hour of my life watching that useless excuse for a science programme. The one thing I can take away from it is that I shan’t be wasting any more of my time watching it in future. Lesson learnt.

As a point of balance, I watched a very good documentary on BBC 4 the other night called “Women” about feminism and the women’s movement. It was exactly how a documentary ought to be made and I’m looking forward to seeing the other 2 editions of the programme. You see BBC, you can do it when you try.

Suggested viewing; "Earth Story" by Aubrey Manning

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