Josh and Chuck

Ever wonder what the love child of the British version of The Office and an overheard conversation about science between two reasonably informed guys would grow up to be? Ok, maybe not, but Stuff You Should Know will answer the question anyway.

Stuff You Should Know, Science Channel’s new show based on the popular podcast of the same name, is a peculiar amalgamation of The Office’s awkward, asinine mockumentary comedy and scientific discussion.

Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant play themselves in a fictionalized workspace and circumstances that provide them the opportunity to discuss novel scientific topics. In the first episode, they use an interaction with an Alien Hand Syndrome sufferer as a platform to discuss different brain ailments, and in the second, they job shadow two homicide cops to talk about the interaction between forensic science and the public.

Stuff You Should Know is far more sketch than science. It has the attention span of a teenaged boy. The show bounces from scene to scene without explanation or sense. Josh and Chuck are likable guys who try to explain complex issues as simply as possible and use humor. It comes across as an attempt to use humor to subversively present scientific information to a scientifically illiterate audience without pretense, and they pay careful attention to tone to avoid coming across as intimidating. It would be hard to be overwhelmed with scientific information in the show; the grand total comes up to about three minutes of science per episode.

I did not find the shows funny, and my husband said he thought the second episode was better than the first. I suspect a younger man with less scientific understanding would find the show far more entertaining.

I could overlook the lack of chuckles if its second episode did not have serious scientific issues. The first episode only imparts a couple of menial factoids. The second episode deals with The CSI Effect, a shift in expectations of juries who now demand more in-depth scientific evidence since forensic science entered the entertainment realm in shows like CSI and Bones. This is something that legal professionals say they have bumped up against and may be a legitimate change in juror expectation. Chuck and Josh bring up an egregious example of a jury exonerating a defendant of rape when they found DNA inadequate to convict and wanted further forensic evidence. They fail to mention the mountain of evidence stacking up against many of the forensic sciences and the mass exoneration based on faulty forensic evidence.

The issue of forensic misconduct, incompetence, unjustified positions, and overreach was so pervasive, the U.S. Congress directed the National Academy of Sciences to investigate. In 2009 they released a document called Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. In it they called for reforms in analyzing blood, coroner’s offices, finger print analysis, hair analysis, arson investigation, and more. According to the Innocence Project, 116 people were convicted based on forensic evidence and were eventually exonerated using DNA evidence. This does not include all the other types of exonerations based on revealing faulty forensic techniques like discredited arson investigation and faulty finger print analysis (yes, it happens).

To talk about the CSI Effect without this information is like discussing pre-Darwinian evolutionary theory and presenting it as fact. It’s just enough information to sound smart but draw the wrong conclusions. The CSI Effect may be people confusing fact and fiction as is asserted in the show, or it could be jurors understanding finally that they should have standards for conviction and taking their role analyzing the evidentiary value of findings more seriously by employing healthy skepticism.

Josh and Chuck seem to just be regurgitating headlines without looking a bit deeper, which might be excusable if it were not a program bent on getting scientific information into the minds of the ignorant. The media as a whole does a good job at misconstruing the significance of scientific and social findings; science programs should do better.

There are a few blissful cameos from science and pop culture stars in the second episode. Science Channel promises even more cameos as the show continues. None of the cameos in the first and second episodes have anything to do with the science on the show, which is a shame considering who stops by.

Fans of the podcast should know there is far more science in the podcast than in the show, but the guys have the same friendly mood.

Stuff You Should Know is not to my taste, but I don’t want to write it off totally. I hope they get their science together. Their odd-ball style is on trend in entertainment and just might have a shot at capturing the attention of young men by accidentally imparting science with its silliness.

Stuff You Should Know airs Saturday at 10 PM Eastern and Pacific time on the Science Channel.


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