Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of November 24

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, many programs are taking some or all of the week off.  In this week’s repeats, there aren’t any guests of particular interest to science and technology enthusiasts.

I’ll jump right to the big name.  John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is making his third (and final) appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on Wednesday.  Holdren first appeared with Letterman back in 2008, prior to joining the Obama Administration.  He hasn’t been on the show since 2009.  Based on his last appearance, I expect next to no publicity for the appearance.  Of course, at least some of that is due to it being the day before Thanksgiving.  The discussion will likely focus on climate change, as it has in the past.

There are other guests of note this week.  While Almost Human was cancelled, Michael Ealy, who played the lead android, will visit with Craig Ferguson Tuesday night.  As Ferguson is assisted by a robot sidekick, I’m crossing my fingers that robots might be a topic of conversation.  The only chef I include in these listings, Alton Brown, will be on with Meredith Viera on Wednesday.  Thanksgiving cookery is certainly the focus.

If you find these offerings wanting, and have access to The Science Channel, I recommend the marathons of MythBusters episodes on Thursday and Saturday.  Of course, there are likely many other programs on that channel you will enjoy, including the annual-ish pumpkin launching special on Saturday night.  Former MythBusters Kari Byron and Tory Belleci host.

More Funny Pages On The Red Planet

Next Friday Uwingu will beam messages to Mars, in commemoration of the first mission to that planet on November 28, 1964.  As part of its Beam Me To Mars campaign, Uwingu is including comic strips.  The first one announced was Pearls Before Swine.  In the month since, at least three other comic strips have indicated they were headed to Mars.  Joining Pearls Before Swine are strips from The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee, Red and Rover, The Pajama Diaries, and Prickly City.  (If I’ve missed any, please point me to them in the comments)

While Pearls Before Swine is not known for covering space in its panels, most of the other strips being broadcast next week have featured science, space and/or technology as themes in their strips.

With the beaming scheduled for next Friday, submissions are now closed.  But I’d take an extra close look at the funnies that day.  Maybe there will be some surprises to see.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of November 17

This will be the last full week of new episodes before American Thanksgiving.  Buoyed by this month’s science-themed films, there are plenty of opportunities this week.

The Imitation Game is premiering at the end of next week, and lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch is making the rounds to promote.  He plays computer scientist Alan Turing in the film.  This morning (Monday) he was on with Kelly and Michael, and tonight he visits The Tonight Show.  Tuesday he sits down with Jon Stewart.  Keira Knightly plays a colleague of Turing’s in the movie.  She will be on with Kelly and Michael Tuesday morning, and with Seth Meyers on Wednesday evening.

The other science movies this month continue with promotion.  Earlier today Interstellar star Matthew McConaughey was on The Talk.  He will make his last visit with Craig Ferguson on Thursday.  His co-star Jessica Chastain will be on The Daily Show Wednesday night.  Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, will visit Seth on Tuesday and The Daily Show Thursday.

There are other science-related guests this week.  Mayim Bialik, a neuroscientist who plays one on The Big Bang Theory, double dips on Thursday, starting on The View and ending on Late Night with Seth Meyers.  Her co-star Kunal Nayyar was on Ellen earlier today (Monday).  The show will bring on its science person, Steve Spangler, on Tuesday.  Finally, The Talk will have on its technology correspondent, Chi-Lan Lieu, on Friday.

On a related note, the new host of The Late Late Show, James Corden, will sit down with David Letterman on Friday.  Aside from a couple of Doctor Who episodes, this is probably the first time most people will have seen him.  I doubt it will be enough time to get a sense of how much science and technology stuff, but it should give some indication of whether you’ll like his show.

New Things To See And Read – Boundaries and Master Classes

Two items of note for those looking for some new things to help broaden their horizons.

Boundaries is the first issue of Method Quarterly, a new journal focused on the scientific method.  (H/T to Alexis Madrigal and his 5 Intriguing Things newsletter.)  A mixture of interviews, fiction, reporting and essays, Method Quarterly strikes me as more of a kind with a literary journal or the magazine for an institute like the Wilson Center or the National Academies.  From the About page:

“The scientific method is much more than the technical details of experiments: it’s the culture of the lab, the politics of science funding, the art of experimental design, and the science of telling a good story. What gets left out of scientific publications? What don’t we hear about in popular articles about scientific discovery and technological innovation?

“Method features stories about science in the making. Rather than focus on discovery or futuristic potential, we want to think critically about process—how science actually gets done. We want to ask questions that open new conversations about science in the popular media”

I think that’s a good thing, and I encourage you to see if I’m right.

There are also more Master Classes available from the World Science University.  In addition to the three that started last month, you can now take more short courses on various elements of cosmological theory.  As is the case for the other courses, no formal training in mathematics and physics is necessary.  And the material will be covered in a few hours.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of November 10

Before I dive into the listings for the week, I’ll remind folks to check out yesterday’s post, which focused on Kevin Delaney.  Delaney is a scientist and science demonstrator who has made multiple appearances on The Tonight Show, and may be the first of a group that show may feature.  Here’s a web exclusive segment with Delaney.

A tip of the hat to Last Week Tonight, on HBO, which finished its first season yesterday.  A high percentage of each program is available on YouTube, and it’s an excellent way to catch up.  The show follows it’s Comedy Central forebears in occasionally featuring science and technology content.  Yesterday it was a salmon cannon.  The program will return in February.

There are still some late night bookings connected to Interstellar, which premiered in the U.S. over the weekend.  John Lithgow will be on Late Night tonight (Monday) and Jessica Chastain will visit Conan on Wednesday.  In other science-themed films, Eddie Remayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, will sit with Jimmy Fallon on Wednesday.  Felicity Jones, who plays Jane Hawking, Stephen’s first wife, was on with Jimmy last Tuesday night.

In other listings, Steven Johnson continues to promote How We Got To Now with an appearance on Carson Daly’s program late Tuesday night.  On Wednesday, Terence Tao, math professor at UCLA and recent recipient of the Breakthrough Prize, will put up with Stephen Colbert’s innumeracy for 5-7 minutes.  With Craig Ferguson wrapping up his late night run, listings for him have been announced through December 19.  Many of his favorites are returning for a final visit.  This week the science and technology guest is Simon Helberg, who plays an engineer on The Big Bang Theory.  He chats with Craig on Thursday.


Fallon Might Just Have His Resident Scientist

This is based off of two appearances, but it seems worth mentioning, if only because I missed both of them.

Kevin Delaney is Director of Visitor Experience at the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Last Friday’s segment marked his second appearance on The Tonight Show this year (the first was in May).  As the museum notes on its website, Delaney conducted the same kind of experiment he organizes at the museum for the “Awesome Science” program.

Delaney was approached by the program shortly before Fallon moved to the 11:30 slot in February.  Staff have apparently approached many different science museums and organizations to find people like Kevin Delaney.  So while Delaney appears to be the first regular guest to conduct experiments, he may not be the only one.  (I’m not counting Fallon’s occasional segments with kids.)  I know I’ll keep a closer watch in order to note any additions.

Robot Cops – Imperfectly Executed Cases of #SciFiSciPol

This year there were not one, but two science fiction works involving a future society with robot policeman.  The FOX television program Almost Human was cancelled in April after a 13 episode first series that followed the cases of a human cop and his android partner.  The typical conflicts of ‘mismatched’ partners were augmented by Dorian, the android partner, being one of a model that was decommissioned for reasons that the show only hinted at in the first season.

Aside from the new technology and how it affected the city where the show took place, Almost Human had the larger stories that are almost expected in American television these days.  Regrettably, the 13 episodes aired managed to just raise a bunch of meaty policy questions around technology, law enforcement, and notions of self and justice.  Certainly it’s the first purpose of television programs to entertain (even the news), but a frustration I had watching the program was seeing a host of interesting scientific and technological changes influence this world, with little effort to dive into them.

Back in February an update/reboot of the 1987 film Robocop premiered to some interest, but less box office pull.  Like the first film, this movie follows Alex Murphy, a policeman who suffers a serious accident in a crime, and is converted into a cyborg.  In both films Murphy’s new technology allows him to function as an incredibly efficient (if overzealous) cop and each film explores how much of Murphy remains human.  There is also an element of social satire – primarily about corporations – in each film.  The later film is much more muted in this than the original, perhaps because of how the 2014 film globalizes aspects of the plot in ways that recognize the broader world of the film (and today) but undercut the tension of introducing military-grade technology into a civilian setting.  Had the film came out closer to this summer’s unrest in Ferguson, Missouri (arguably escalated in part due to the presence of military grade hardware used by the police), perhaps this year’s Robocop would have garnered more interest.

One major difference between the two Robocop films is this year’s version included two scientists as notable characters in the film.  This allowed for one character’s arc to focus on the consequences of scientific research, and its impact on the humans affected by it (directly and otherwise).  That Gary Oldman plays the main scientist makes it easier to watch.

Arguably the 2014 film is well-cast, and well-acted.  But it lacks the broad social satire of its predecessor, pulling punches in places about the motivations of businesses seeking to ‘help’ law enforcement with their products.  To be sure, it’s fair to consider some of the 1987 film cartoonish – especially 27 years later.  But sometimes satire needs to be outrageous – either in tone or in difference from the ordinary – to effectively make the point.

As entertainments, both Robocops and Almost Human certainly have their flaws.  But each provide ample opportunity to take the scientific and technological leaps presented and explore how they might affect the societies that use them.  They are certainly worth exploring from that perspective.  But if you’re looking for something to while away a few hours with some popcorn and beverages, seek out the 1987 Robocop.  It’s not for the squeamish, but it still grabs you and takes you for a ride.