Recently, I caught a TV program called "Braniac: Science Abuse". It's a British program (or is that programme?) The episode I saw involved various segments including what happens to toothpaste when you put it in liquid nitrogen (it freezes), what happens if you put the ingredients for a parfait in the microwave with a fluorescent lightbulb and a bowl of flammable liquid (it explodes), can an aerobics teacher do her job while being randomly given an electric shock (she can't) and what happens if you blow-up a shed full of fireworks (they go off). It also included more scientific segments: an attempt to replicate Galileo's Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment, and an experiment intending to determine whether a person performs better when starving or when over-stuffed. (There were many other segments of both types) In all cases, the background science wasn't well explained and the experiments were poorly designed. The show has even been accused of forging results. 'Science Abuse' is an accurate subtitle.
This is a particularly bad example, but there are other science shows that aren't exactly rigorous with the scientific method (Mythbusters, for example, is a great show but the experimental design is sometimes lacking). I understand that these are television programs and the goal is to entertain, but it seems to me that those kind of changes needn't get in the way of the watchability. In the feast or famine performance example above, adding a person who had neither over-eaten nor been starved for a day wouldn't be difficult (forgetting that it's still an n=1 experiment). Or breaking up the tasks and assessing them individually rather than one mega-challenge of both physical and mental events.
So my questions are these:
Is it more important to have an accurate portrayal of the scientific method, or an entertaining program that attracts kids to science even if it mostly portrays it as blowing things up?
Is it impossible to make a more rigourous science program fun?
[Comic credit: xkcd]