The Power of Positive News

One of the things I hate about TV news shows is they generally focus on the bad in the world.  Watching the news makes me think the world is full of evil people running amok.  Watching the news makes me think the world is in constant crisis.  Most national news programs start out with the worse depressing stories and if we’re lucky they will give us a minute of something upbeat at the tail end of the show.  Maybe they have it backasswards.   Let’s start with the good stuff, and give a couple of minutes to the depressing stuff we need to solve at the end.

One topic I wished the news would promote more is science.  Overall our society is fairly ignorant of how reality works.  Look how many people want to shape politics from knowledge gained from ancient religious texts and next life fantasies.  The stars of our society are jocks, actors and musicians.  Are ball handling, pretending and singing really the highest aspirations we want to put forth as ambitions our society needs?  We really need to raise the bar on challenging professions.

Watch this video of the 18 year old winner of the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search, Erika DeBenedictis.  I have to wonder how it would change society if instead of showcasing the Oscars every year we present the Intel Science Talent Search instead.  We will always have a surplus of kids wanting to be professional athletes, movie stars and platinum record makers, so why promote their success so heavily.  Why not promote the successes of the kinds of people we need more of in this world.

Who are Erika’s teachers?  How did her parents encourage her?  What men and women inspired Erika?  What did she do for herself?  Some people are doing stuff very right – so why aren’t they getting more attention.  Her video on YouTube had 95 hits when I found it.  Here’s what 1,361,495 people were watching that day instead:

So why does this exceptional teenage girl that’s calculating optimal orbits for spacecraft get practically no attention, while stupid videos wildly succeed.  Television focuses on either evil or stupidity.  How can anyone find inspiration?  Does that mean ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CNN and other news content providers merely aim their content to what their audiences want?  This really makes me wonder what the average intelligence is in our country.

We actually want two things.  We want to produce more smart kids like Erika DeBenedictis, but we also want to educate everyone to understand how reality works.  This video, “Science Struggles in Schools” shows how hard it is to teach science, but it also showcases how fun science can be to students.

Natalie Angier wrote The Canon about the failure of science education while giving her readers a sweeping overview of the major sciences.   Her Introduction essentially explains what has happened to science education and public support for it.  I can’t quote it all, but follow the link and read it, but here’s one observation that we have to deal with:

Childhood, then, is the one time of life when all members of an age cohort are expected to appreciate science. Once junior high school begins, so too does the great winnowing, the relentless tweezing away of feather, fur, fun, the hilarity of the digestive tract, until science becomes the forbidding province of a small priesthood and a poorly dressed one at that. A delight in "Grossology" gives way to a dread of grossness. In this country, adolescent science lovers tend to be fewer in number than they are in tedious nicknames: they are geeks, nerds, eggheads, pointy-heads, brainiacs, lab rats, the recently coined aspies (for Asperger’s syndrome); and, hell, why not "peeps" (pocket protectors) or "dogs" (duct tape on glasses) or "losers" (last ones selected for every sport)? Nonscience teenagers, on the other hand, are known as "teenagers," except among themselves, in which case, regardless of gender, they go by an elaboration on "guys" as in "you guys," "hey, guys" or "hey, you guys." The you-guys generally have no trouble distinguishing themselves from geeks bearing beakers; but should any questions arise, a teenager will hasten to assert his or her unequivocal guyness, as I learned while walking behind two girls recently who looked to be about sixteen years old.

Girl A asked Girl B what her mother did for a living.

"Oh, she works in Bethesda, at the NIH," said Girl B, referring to the National Institutes of Health. "She’s a scientist."

"Huh," said Girl A. I waited for her to add something like "Wow, that’s awesome!" or "Sweet!" or "Kewl!" or "Schnitzel with noodles!" and maybe ask what sort of science this extraordinary mother studied. Instead, after a moment or two, Girl A said, "I hate science."

"Yeah, well, you can’t, like, pick your parents," said Girl B, giving her beige hair a quick, contemptuous flip. "Anyway, what are you guys doing this weekend?"

Which I guess is why the Erika DeBenedictis video only had 95 hits and why millions of kids will watch stupid kids doing stuff they shouldn’t be doing.  How do we change that?  If the news media focused on the positive instead of the negative would that change things?  If the nightly news opened with stories about people doing wonderful work instead of idiots crashing trains because they were texting, would that make a difference?

What is the potential power of positive news?  What professions should be the rock stars of our society?

JWH -  3/27/10

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