I’ve heard this one last year (02.16.2007) but heard it again today (it will probably re-air tomorrow – check your local NPR station) – the This American Life episode about Quiz Shows. It was composed of three stories:
The first one is kinda weird – the guy was lucky with questions on the Irish version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, he was shy and this win gave him self-confidence, and he is using the money to live and to help other people.
The third story totally floored me – I hope someone like Zuska or Amanda or Echidne does the analysis of it – it is about a failed quiz show for girls. Intended to showcase how smart the girls are it ended up showcasing how stupid they were, to the horror of the question-writer for the show. It really made my jaw drop and I don’t know what can be done!
But the second story, a fun story about a puzzle competition at MIT, had a snippet (between minutes 42 and 45 when you click on “Full episode” (I don’t see a transcript anywhere) that really made me raise my eyebrows. One of the competitors is talking about his life, his work at Hallmark and his colleagues there. One day, they go out to lunch (the guys from Humor department, thus presumably intelligent, curious and funny) and someone mentions the Hallmark cards that show chimps yet use the word “monkeys” to describe them. The guy tells them a little bit about the difference between monkeys and apes, a little trivia about errors in “The Planet of the Apes” and a tiny little bit about Prosimians. The other guy’s response? “Speaking of animals, would you like to see the rat’s ass that I give?” Wow! Anti-intellectual and proud of it?! The guy’s thought: “Oh, that’s my problem: I inform people against their will!”
And that is, in one sentence, the problem with science communication – we try to inform people against their will.