Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Learning bioscience from ReGenesis

The Canadian science fiction show ReGenesis has structural biologist (and head of the Structural Genomics Consortium) Aled Edwards to thank for it's scientific accuracy. He acknowledges that drama sometimes trumps reality.
"ReGenesis is the most accurate scientific drama out there, no holds barred, for sure," he claimed in a recent interview. He finds it difficult to watch those other popular programs [CSI and House], but isn't offended by their use and misuse of science either. "It's almost like watching a cartoon, where Batman or Superman or House is the same. When I watch Superman, I don't get upset: 'Hey, men can't fly!'" he laughed. "When I watch those shows, I turn off my scientific brain. I say I'm watching mindless entertainment here. Because if I put on my scientific brain, I'd get upset. So I just watch it and think this is not science, this is not medicine, this is television."

While he's proud of ReGenesis's devotion to basing its fictional stories on fact, he doesn't lay claim to documentary-like accuracy either. "None of these scientific programs are ultimately the truth because we have boring jobs. I sit on my ass all day in front of the computer. The action takes place in the head and you don't see anything. There's no shooting. But it's fun for people to start to realize what we do."

But educating the Canadian public about scientists and science has been taken a step further.

Part of his outreach efforts led to a couple of recent public forums, one in Vancouver and one in Hamilton, called "Revealing ReGenesis: Explore TV's Experiment with Gene Science Fact and Fiction."

Using clips from the series as conversation starters, the forums generated conversation among audience members and scientists sprinkled at tables throughout the room, as well as a panel discussion. Moderated by Jay Ingram, host of Discovery Channel's Daily Planet, the Vancouver panel was comprised of Edwards, fellow geneticist Dr. Elizabeth Simpson, ethicist Dr. Shane Green, and ReGenesis lead actor Peter Outerbridge.

"We used the draw of television and personalities to bring people there and then talk science and they realize man, that's kind of fun," explained Edwards. "That's why we were trying to link the art and the science together, because they're both about creativity and they're both about using your brain."

There is plenty of online information as well. The Ontario Genomics Institute has a companion "Facts behind the Fiction" web site, with episode guides and you can pay a virtual visit to the (fictional) North America Biotechnology Advisory Commission (NorBAC). There's even an "extended reality" game that is coordinated with each episode.

The IMDb indicates that it's appearing in the middle of the night on ABC (next episode, Monday, January 21, 1:35 AM). I'm hoping that if the writer's strike continues it gets a slot closer to prime time. Word to SciFi: I'd much rather watch ReGenesis than yet another episode of Ghost Hunters or a monstrous animal of the week movie.

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1 comment:

Marilyn said...

Great blog. Keep up the good work. Cheers:-)