When I was a youngster, I was fascinated by the limited number of television programs that had science at their heart, there was the BBC's Tomorrow's World and Horizon, ITV's "How", series such as the inventive "Great Egg Race" and of course the Royal Institution's Christmas Lectures, which I fastidiously watched each festive season. I was a proper geek, probably still am. The TV content has diversified, when Roger Waters sang he had "forty channels" in the Pink Floyd's double concept album The Wall, he was in 1979 recognizing how much tedious viewing there was "to choose from". Today, of course, we have endless channels, endless internet sources for content both scientific and very much non-scientific.

There are a few diamonds in the rough, although my old childhood favorites either no longer exist or else have been morphed into strung out, dumbed down drivel, where a single data point in a TV "experiment" is meant to represent a general trend or support a theory. There are two primary culprits I still see doing this in the health science and medical arenas on TV, which is irritating at best and frustrating in that as a scientist I can imagine many viewers with perhaps no scientific training picturing these "experiments" as being scientifically valid.

The whole issue of TV programming has to be driven by the viewing market and in the case of commercial television, the advertising marketplace. There are exceptions. But, it is in the TV quizzes and game shows that seem to reveal the divide that still exists between the humanities type programming and science. A general knowledge quiz might ask a contestant to recall a minor character from Shakespeare or the actor that played the role in the original cinematic version, for instance. And, yet it seems that the most complicated scientific question will be something along the lines of "What is the chemical symbol for potassium or tungsten?" Obviously, "trick" questions.

Indeed, a university based TV quiz recently asked something more complicated about rechargeable batteries to which the answer was obviously lithium, but a supplementary clue in the question said that the answer would be the metallic element with the lowest atomic mass. It seems that knowing that lithium is used in rechargeable batteries is acceptable general knowledge but knowing that it is the lightest metallic element is not.

I do wonder whether lawyers, economists, political experts sociologists and others in non-scientific professional fields see a similar problem in their TV viewing. But, I suspect it's not quite the same for them as it is for us...

David Bradley blogs at Sciencebase Science Blog and tweets @sciencebase, he is author of the popular science book "Deceived Wisdom".