Robots Gone Wild! (ABC Uses Science to Scare)

Ok, anything that gets the American public more interested in science is good. And yet, I really have to question the judgment of Neil de Grasse Tyson—the man who first demoted Pluto!; but on that front, people, deal—and other notable scientists for appearing on ABC’s pseudo-scientific offering, “Last Days on Earth!”

Now, given that a huge chuck of TV programming on any given night is devoted to the grossly overstated threat from serial killers and pedophiles (more on that in a later post), people are probably relieved to confront threats they cannot hope to protect against. ABC has obliged with a Top Ten list of scary, scary threats to the planet, such as:

No. 8: Gamma radiation from nearby astral implosion. Anyone got the odds on that one?

No. 7: Black hole swallowing earth. What, does it just appear astern, like on the season premiere of “Deep Space Nine“?

No. 6: AI Gone Wild! Yes, indeedy, many Disney-owned film clips were pressed into service.

Number 5: Killer asteroid. Yawn.

Number 4: Still not entirely sure. “Many of our threats come from above. Only one comes from below…” i.e. some kind of geophysical meltdown that, according to ABC, “might” happen under Yellowstone. (You know, it is one thing to rope in media-sophisticated scientists interviewed in some kind of Truthiness studio setting to do your bidding. It is another thing to interview every law-enforcement official and EMT guy in Rapid City, SD, and ask: What could you hope to do if a giant cloud of ash swallowed your city?)

Number 3: Nuclear war. Wait, that’s a real threat. Yet, while experts sanely noted the biggest risk still from U.S./U.S.S.R, most of the file footage was about Iran.

Number 2: Plague/Flu. Oddly, since 10 minutes earlier, ABC had made the point that only one threat “comes from below,” plague is now shouted out to be the only threat “not sent from above.” And wait, plague or flu could be weaponized! One biologist notes: “some people say, thank god that Ted Kaczynski was a mathematician, not a biologist.” Snap!

Number 1: Wait for it…yes, it is global warming. And, though sensationalized and overly reliant on Al Gore (yet another indicator he’s running, btw.), the segment was relatively smart.

Smart enough that it made me wonder if this whole show wasn’t the product of some producers concerned about global warming asking themselves: How do we sell this to network brass/ advertisers? Wait! I know! A Top Ten list!

  • Clara Jeffery is Editor-in-Chief of Mother Jones and recipient of a PEN America award for editing. You can follow her on Twitter.

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