Science montages in TV and movies

Heh. Leave it to xkcd to sum it up perfectly:

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(Click for full comic)

You know, I happen to love CSI:Miami as much as the next guy. In fact, it’s one of my guilty TV pleasures. But any time there’s a lab scene on that show (or any of the other CSI shows) it cracks me up. Beautiful people in pristine white lab coats delivering DNA sequences in an hour! Loud rock music blaring over cuts so fast that they induce seizures and would be considered too hyperactive even for a music video or a Michael Bay movie. Multi-colored Eppendorf tubes back lit so that they glow. These sorts of scenes have become the science cliches of movies and TVs, much as images of people furiously typing away at keyboards to effortlessly bring up information about virtually anything have become the computer cliches of our time.

Science is exciting. There is the thrill of discovery that is hard to match. But in many cases actually watching someone do science is about as exciting as, well, watching someone type at his keyboard. Back in the day when I was in the lab a lot more than I am now, I couldn’t imagine someone wanting to watch me do a Northern blot or set up a PCR reaction unless that person was a trainee to whom I was teaching the technique. What worries me about these shows is that people will think doing science is actually like CSI all the time and may be sorely disappointed when they find out that there’s a lot of slow, painstaking drudgery required to get to the exciting results.