Another General Media Failure

SABC2’s schedule this evening billed a one-hour programme at 21:30 called “African Science is Sexy.” The programme was displaced by another featuring an open (but moderated) panel discussion about electoral issues where some of the major SA political parties got to air their visions for the country post-2009.

The political tomfooleries in this country are much the same as elsewhere, i.e. characterised by everyone pretending to know better; still, it is the displaced TV programme that, as a sceptic, should have piqued one’s interest.

The content of the scheduled programme is of course not presently known to us, but there are two essential difficulties with the title “African Science is Sexy.” First – as un-PC as it may sound – Africa is not, even at a liberally imaginative push, a hub of scientific advancement, sexy or otherwise.

More importantly, the title suggests that science enjoys some kind of culturally dependent validity, a thoroughly postmodernist notion. If there’s an African science, there’s an American, a European, an Asian science – all equally valid. But why stop there? How about Zimbabwean science as distinct from Senegalese or Azerbaijani or New Guinean science? How about Cape Townian science in contrast to Pretorian or Durbanese science? Is my science more valid for me than yours? What about science’s clear and self-imposed mandate to transcend personal and cultural prejudices and biases, and parochialism?

Briefly, the title fosters the fundamentally mistaken idea that the practice of science is somehow subjectively dependent. More insidiously, it pumps the idea that one science can be “better” than another, which is complete nonsense if both adhere to the same stringent principles. Both must arrive at the same answers.

While it may strike many as a petty quibble, this is where sceptics can make a difference by raising the appropriate consciousness. We have written a letter of protest to the SABC, gently outlining the problems and why they are important. Our government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to science and technology as the best avenue for the future (as is good and right), and in view of this, these points need to be emphasised repeatedly in just that light.


I agree, although I could understand how this could be used to draw attention to, and support the sciences here in SA. I’m not saying that is what they have in mind, but there have been some happenings here (such as SALT) that could show that some are interested in ramping up the scientific effort, trying to generate a buzz, so that we can play on the world stage (scientifically speaking). This would (or should) be good for science education, research, etc. in Africa in general, and SA in particular.
I would have to see the content to decide the motives, and whether they are appropriate or effective. Again, I agree that if it is based on the notion that culturally we are different, so our science is different, then I would have to call bunk.
Do you know, or have you tried to find out why the show was NOT shown? That may very well be of some interest.

I would support selling science to the youth as being “sexy” (for want of a better word), such as Mark Shuttleworth’s Hip2B2 TV Series for school children. But based on the information that “African Science is Sexy” is being shown late at night, I imagine that they are trying to sell this to an older audience and I agree with 'Luthon that there should be a better way to sell this.

What really frightens me, having not seen the show, is the possibility that the term “African Science” is being used as a cover for African traditional beliefs in the same way that “African Medicine” is used. It seems that the government is in favour of promoting this nonsense and perhaps this initiative has spilled-over into the programming department at the SABC.

I hope that I’m wrong about that.


As near as we could tell, because current local political affairs are enormously more important than fostering a scientifically literate public.

Yes, that was our thinking too, and for the same reason.

Yes, that was our expectation too, given (as you mentioned) our government’s support thereof. The programme was scheduled for a full hour and we thought they might have short bits on Danie Krügel or the bloke with his perpetual motion machine to alleviate our dependency on Eskom or the other one with his non-Newtonian motor, all of which caused a stir and some of which have since disappeared down a crack where they belong.

Indeed and ditto.