During our discussion on how science is portrayed on television, many thought provoking ideas and questions arose as we examined just how accurate depictions of science on television. This examination raised more questions that lead others to think beyond the scope of just accuracy. Forensic science dramas as well as medical dramas have become more and more popular over the last two decades, which has given viewers a new insight to various fields within the sciences. With focus on shows such as CSI, House, M.D, and Grey’s Anatomy, there were two central areas of discussion; the use of DNA testing and biomedical ethics.
One of the points of reference was unpacking the “CSI effect” as described in the article, “Investigating potential effects: Portrayals of DNA testing on a forensic crime show and their potential effect.” (Ley, Jankowski, Brewer 2010) The CSI effect essentially looks at how the reliance on and simplified use of DNA testing affects society off of the screen.
The article reviewed a plethora of episodes of the forensic science series CSI to quantitatively see how often and successful DNA tests were throughout the series. The findings showed that there were high rates of DNA testing usage in criminal cases and also an exaggerated rate of successfully solving these particular investigations. Though the article did not compare these results to what actually occurs, what was mentioned was the fact that DNA tests are hard to do because you need a sample to match the tested DNA too. Also, these tests can take weeks to process unlike the convenient one-day span depicted in forensic shows.
From this information, I believe that shows such as CSI may give people false representation that misconstrues their judgment as to how to decide is someone is guilty or not. It seems DNA is the deciding factor in most cases and citizen holding a juror position may think that it is a simple process. I would love to look further to compare the statistics of DNA in CSI to actual its actual use results of cases in America. I believe that the heavy focus on DNA can also be a good way to increase job opportunities in science labs. If more DNA test results are being requested, then there will be a higher demand for people within these careers.
A second point of discussion of science in media is the MD-narrative. Shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House etcetera have become widespread and popular for both non-medical people and medical students alike. From these very popular shows, we agreed that the scientist is flawed and relatable which humanizes the him or her from the preconception that they are white-haired, middle-aged, and socially out of touch. For example, Dr. Sheppard, also know as McDreamy, is a “handsome, charming, dark-haired male” who does not fit into the expected stereotype of a doctor. Though many professionals in the health field feel as though these shows romanticize the true aspects of careers in medicine, these narratives in the media essentially help the non-medical viewer reimagine the image of science and the scientist.
One reading in class examined the possibility that medical dramas are a great way teach medical students ethical sensitivity (Arawi 2010). Award winning writers create complex ethical scenarios that supersede what any textbook writer could ask on paper. A talking point mentioned in class mentioned that this tool allows a student to be “entangled just enough to be involved yet remain sufficiently detached to be able to exercise critical analysis” to ultimately develop the students’ ethical sensitivity. Is it a good idea for medical students to use these narratives as a learning tool for biomedical ethics? I believe that having a visual representation of characters will definitely be a great tool if monitored and analyzed by a educator. MD-narratives often give more background and context whereas traditional methods may leave some ends untied and left to the imagination of the student.
On the other hand, when looking at examples of scenarios in the hit series, House, M.D., the main character, who is a pain killer addict and also a doctor, often uses illegal and even questionably unethical actions to diagnose and save patients. This could be seen as him fulfilling his Hippocratic oath, but to medical students, watching House may lead them to believe that rules are capable of being broken once in a while without thinking about learned protocol or possible consequences (Goodman 2007).
Within both topics discussed, there is much more to think about, but our ending thoughts reestablished what the intent for medical related shows actually are. Many writers create glamorized and often inaccurate content in order to get high ratings and successfully appeal to a wide audience. How could a forensic science show indicate that DNA tests actually take a week or more when an episode is only around 30 minutes? Or what good would an unattractive doctor be in a story line centered around a love story? These questions may be a reach, but there seems to have to be a happy medium of factual and appealing content that can be an accurate account of what science really is. Nonetheless, these series that are based around professions in the sciences help to make scientists more relatable rather than in an isolated outer space as shown in media throughout the past.
Thalia Arawi (2010) Using medical drama to teach biomedical ethics to medical students, Medical Teacher, 32:5, e205-e210, DOI: 10.3109/01421591003697457
Kevin Goodman. (2007) Medical education Imagining doctors: medical students and the TV medical drama, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, 9 (3): 182- 187
Barbara L. Ley, Natalie Jankowski and Paul R. Brewer (2010) Investigating potential effects: Portrayals of DNA testing on a forensic crime show and their potential effect, Public Understanding of Science, 21:50.