Friday, December 28, 2012

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette is an independent historian based in Washington, DC. She is the author of Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television and Science on American Television: A History.

A few weeks ago I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
Familiar feelings: Tired, anxious to return home, in need of one more stretch before boarding a plane. Expectations low, I strolled through the airport bookstore and scanned the shelves. Then I spied two familiar names and a novel I had missed when it first appeared. Purchase made. Electronic reading device stowed. Comfort located within two paper covers.

Thank you Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. Your Gideon's Corpse sustained, entertained, and informed me all the way home, just as your other novels (beginning with Relic) have done through the years. The air-hours dwindled as your physicist-hero careened through whitewater and cadged his way into secure government facilities, attempting to derail a terrorist plot. When there was a slight delay reaching the gate at my destination, I could retrieve the paperback from my bag and re-immerse in an imaginary world, remote from the stress and anxiety of the real one.

I have spent the last few years probing the history of how science is presented on television, where the most effectively communicated technical information is now often woven into drama. Series like C.S.I. and Bones create plausible laboratories, conduct experiments to test reasonable (if fanciful) hypotheses, and allow their characters to act as knowledgeably arrogant as some (but not, of course, all) real scientists. When television writers take the time to research the pertinent science--as Preston and Child have done consistently through the years for their books--then audiences are rewarded. We are educated as well as entertained and, especially for illustrating intricate science-related ethical and political issues, we may be alerted and informed. We can absorb a little science even when the flight is long and the traveler weary.
Learn more about Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette's Science on American Television at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue