I remember those early cable TV days.

Came across this meme on Facebook today and it made me a little ranty. It’s one of the big reasons I ended up cutting the cord years ago and switching to streaming only. It’s largely accurate except for Bravo.

Image may contain: text that says 'TV CHANNELS: THEN & NOW WHAT IT SHOWED THEN MTV Music videos WHAT IT SHOWS NOW TLC Trash reality shows that feature young, attractive people Medical shows and documentaries ANIMAL PLANET Trash reality shows that feature oddballs and grossouts Wildlife documentaries A&E Trash reality shows that feature doggies and kitties Historical biographies HISTORY Trash reality shows that feature murders and ghosts History documentaries BRAVO Trash reality shows that feature pawn shops Makeovers and weddings DISCOVERY Trash reality shows that feature gold diggers Nature programming WEATHER Weather Trash reality shows that feature gold-diggers Weather @MATTSURELEE'

I was a teenager in the 1980s when Cable TV started showing up everywhere. I can recall clearly hearing the news that it was coming to my hometown of Pontiac, MI and how excited everyone was for it. I can also remember the launch of several of these channels.

MTV was a channel I spent a lot of time on and is the major reason I can recognize musical groups from that era when I see pictures of them. Hours were spent watching videos and when we moved out to Orion Township in 1984, which didn’t have cable TV yet, my mother felt so bad that she bought a couple of MTV compilation VHS tapes to make up for it. I think I still have them around here someplace.

Some folks know that TLC stood for The Learning Channel and started off with a lot of educational programming and documentaries, but what a lot of them don’t know is that it’s one of the oldest cable channels. Founded in 1972 by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and NASA as the Appalachian Community Service Network its focus was on education through TV and was distributed for free by NASA satellite. It was privatized in 1980 and became The Learning Channel and its main competitor was The Discovery Channel, which aired similar content. TLC was considered the better channel for shows about nature, science, history, current events, medicine, technology, cooking, and home improvement. So, of course, the folks behind The Discovery Channel ended up eventually buying them out and then slowly moved the content to the trash that it is today for the sake of ratings. Then in 2006 to 2008 they tried to shift their focus back to actual educational programming even using “The Learning Channel” in some promotions. That didn’t last long at all.

Of all the channels above, TLC is the one I’m most upset about because it in the early days I really enjoyed it. The HISTORY Channel falls into the same category. I struggled with history in school, but I enjoyed the hell out of the programming on The HISTORY Channel back when it actually had shows about history on it. Arts & Entertainment (A&E, natch) was also really good in the early days even if I didn’t watch it all that much because I have no artistic sensibility. BRAVO I didn’t watch much of because I recall it had a lot of operas and “serious theater” on it which didn’t have enough explosions to keep my ADHD addled attention. Not sure why the meme lists BRAVO as makeovers and weddings as that’s the crap it turned into before it went full reality TV programming.

The Discovery Channel was another early favorite because I was big into science stuff and so were they. My favorite program was out of Australia called “BEYOND 2000” which was all about the cool shit we’d be using in the future. I first heard about Dental Implants on that show and now they’re actually a thing here in the future. At the end of my time as a cable TV subscriber the only shows I could stand to watch on the channel was The MythBusters and occasionally How It’s Made.

The joke of the meme is the WEATHER channel, which covered the weather back then and still largely does so today, but it hasn’t escaped from the reality TV trend entirely. With shows like Fat Guys in the Woods and So You Think You Would Survive, they’ve got their toes in the water. Hell, not even the major cable news networks have managed to avoid the trend.

The promise of cable TV back in the day was that it had enough room for networks devoted to knowledge to exist alongside the standard TV fare and for a while it lived up to that promise. Alas, ratings mean money and when the first reality TV show showed you could get massive ratings for extraordinarily little expenditure the fate of these channels was sealed. Why show an informative documentary on how paper clips are made when you can air a show about the hardships of a family of little people and make four times the cash from it?

The same sort of thing happened to parts of the Internet. I first ventured onto the net before the World Wide Web was a thing, so it was a text-based experience. USENET News Groups were the main draw back then functioning much like web-based message forums of today or the Bulletin Board Systems we ran before the Internet was widely available. There were groups devoted to all sorts of topics and they put you in contact with knowledgeable people around the world. Alt.Sex was an amazing forum for getting information from experts about that topic right up until around 1996 when the boom in Internet Service Providers (ISPs) happened and suddenly the Internet became a lot more crowded. Groups like Alt.Sex went from being a place with useful info to nothing but porn ads almost overnight.

It’s almost like any form of educational thing gets ruined the minute you give it to the masses. Early cable TV was highly informative as was the early Internet. Once it reached the mass public both kinda soured. There are still areas of both that hold worthwhile content, but content aimed at the lowest common denominator reigns king and you must step around a lot of dog shit to get to it. It’s a shame. I miss those early days, but that’s probably me being a grumpy old man looking at the past through rose tinted glasses.

Hey you kids! Get the fuck offa my lawn!

Science literacy is important for more than not looking like an idiot.

A recent United Nations report warned that up to 1 million species are facing extinction thanks to the impact humans are having on the planet.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever,” Watson says. He emphasizes that business and financial concerns are also threatened. “We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” he says.

The report lists a number of key global threats, from humans’ use of land and sea resources to challenges posed by climate change, pollution and invasive species.

“Insect pollinators are unfortunately an excellent example of the problems caused by human activities,” Scott McArt,an entomology professor at Cornell University, says in a statement about the report.

“There’s actually a newly coined phrase for insect declines — the ‘windshield effect’ — owing to the fact that if you drove your car at dusk 30 years ago, you would need to clean the windshield frequently, but that’s no longer the case today,” McArt says.

1 Million Animal And Plant Species Are At Risk Of Extinction, U.N. Report Says – NPR.org


There’s a very real danger at this point that if this high number of extinctions does to come to pass that we’ll end up going down with them. So the folks at Jimmy Kimmel Live went out on the street to ask people if we should save ourselves. Specifically, they used the scientific term for humans, Homo sapiens. These are some of the replies people gave:

To be fair, these segments only ever show you the clueless replies and the sample size here is very small, but humans being classified as Homo sapiens is a basic scientific fact that we were all taught (or should have been taught) in grade school. It’s similar to how a lot of folks don’t know that Dihydrogen Monoxide (H2O) is literally water, but that one is a little easier to understand folks not knowing if they didn’t take basic chemistry — not completely understandable as I never took basic chemistry and I know it, but a little more understandable.

I’ve ranted previously about the sad state of science literacy in America and things really haven’t improved much. Periodically the folks at the Pew Research Center conduct a survey to find out what Americans know about science. Their latest was done on January 7th to the 21st, 2019 and consisted of 11 fairly basic questions:

Americans give more correct than incorrect answers to the 11 questions. The mean number of correct answers is 6.7, while the median is 7. About four-in-ten Americans (39%) get between nine and 11 correct answers, classified as having high science knowledge on the 11-item scale or index. Roughly one-third (32%) are classified as having medium science knowledge (five to eight correct answers) and about three-in-ten (29%) are in the low science knowledge group (zero to four correct answers).

The biggest factor in determining how well someone does is the level of education that have managed to acquire:

Americans with a postgraduate degree get about four more questions correct, on average, than those with a high school degree or less education (9.1 of 11 questions vs. 5 of 11). Roughly seven-in-ten (71%) Americans with a postgraduate degree are classified as high in science knowledge, answering at least nine of 11 items correctly. By contrast, about two-in-ten (19%) of those with a high school degree or less perform as well on the scale.

And on each of the 11 questions, those with a postgraduate degree are at least 27 percentage points more likely to choose the correct answer than those with a high school degree or less.

There are also large differences between different ethnic groups which you would think could be tied to the fact that minorities often don’t have the same educational opportunities are whites, but it appears that may not be the case:

Whites are more likely than Hispanics or blacks to score higher on the index. Whites get an average of 7.6 correct out of 11 questions, while Hispanics average 5.1 correct answers and blacks 3.7 correct answers.4 Roughly half of whites (48%) are classified as having high science knowledge on the scale, answering at least nine questions correctly, compared with 23% of Hispanics and 9% of blacks.

Differences by race and ethnicity on science knowledge could be tied to several factors such as educational attainment and access to science information. However, differences between the racial/ethnic groups on science knowledge hold even after controlling for education levels in a regression model.

In a society that is increasingly reliant on technology and understanding the complexity of things such as the climate it’s more important than ever that folks have at least a basic understanding of science and the methodology of the scientific method. This survey suggests we have a long way to go. It’s no wonder we’re letting the planet burn.

You can take the quiz used for this survey yourself by clicking here. My own education level isn’t fantastic; I’ve had some college but I’ve never finished a degree. Yet I managed to get all 11 questions correct which is better than 83% of the public.

There were two questions I had to stop and think about before answering (and, no, I didn’t cheat and Google the answers), but the vast majority of these questions were answerable off the top of my head. That should be true for most people.

On the bright side, at the least I don’t have to worry that I’ll end up on one of Kimmel’s idiots-who-don’t-know-basic-science videos.