Your Weekly Dose of Whoa! Episode 1: Hot Sauce
How do we reach Americans who won’t be seeking out science content on their own? How do we engage Americans for whom the term "science" represents something boring, intimidating, or even scary and threatening to the way they wish to see the world?
When I took the job as Chief Meteorologist of an NBC/FOX TV station in Lafayette, Louisiana in 2016, I knew I had a unique opportunity. Louisiana consistently ranks last in the nation in environmentally-friendly behavior and is home to the notorious Louisiana Science Education Act of 2008, which allows the teaching of criticism of evolution and climate change in the public school system. (Last repeal attempt – 2015.)
Most Louisianians receive their news and information through watching local TV newscasts, and the majority of these viewers have a high school degree or less. It’s been said that the local TV meteorologist is “the only scientist most Americans will ever know.” In 210 markets across the country, local TV news stations broadcast several hours of news content a day into every American home with or without a cable plan. These newscasts cover everything under the sun, including gruesome murders, sex scandals, viral videos and plenty of sports. But outside of the weather forecast, a “health minute,” or an occasional update on NASA, science rarely makes an appearance.
I wanted to change this. In 2017, I created a 19-part “science series in disguise” called, “Your Weekly Dose of Whoa!” I didn’t want viewers to feel they were about to watch science, but rather an exposition of things in this world which are simply fascinating; things that make you go “Whoa!” when you think about them. And of course, all the content presented through this 19-part journey was indeed science. In each episode I featured a scientist from the University of Louisiana or a STEM professional from the Lafayette community.
I wanted the viewer’s entry into science to feel safe and familiar, so for Episode 1 I decided to showcase three locally-manufactured products that just about everyone in the region has in their cupboard: Louisiana Hot Sauce, Tabasco and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning.
Some key points I wanted to get across in this first episode:
- To paint the idea that science is “beautiful” in the minds of viewers; the notion that when you learn more about science, it doesn’t dull your world or rob it of richness, but rather enhances it.
- To paint the idea that a microscope is a window to beauty, wonder and awe. Far from the hands-on experience I took for granted at my suburban high school in Seattle, many Louisianians have never looked through a microscope. I wanted to bring this experience to them through their TV screen.
- To present science in a warm, friendly, and (at times) humorous tone, while allowing myself to be an authentic "reactor" to the wonder of discovery as well, to help viewers feel safe and connected with a trusted tour guide for their journey.
This first episode sparked enthusiasm and curiosity in viewers as well as many of my co-workers. It was a fun, lighthearted introduction to science before tackling more challenging scientific concepts beginning in Episode 2.
It may be true in our increasingly polarized culture in the United States, there will be Americans who have their minds closed and are ready to repel anything that hints of “the environment” or “studies” or even anything that originates from an academic institution. However, we all have the capacity to wonder. We all have the capacity to recognize beauty and let it into our heart. With an audience that’s hard to win over, let’s try connecting the story of science to a sense of local pride, and recognize that wonder and awe may be just a beautiful still frame away.