The Science of Stupid Innovation

You may have watched The Science of Stupid once or twice, it's the entertaining quasi-scientific show where we get a chance to laugh at people videotaping themselves getting hurt on YouTube.

Recently I noticed that instead of Seth Herzog, the show has switched hosts to former "Top Gear presenter" (they mean "guy who was on Top Gear" when they say this. British English is weird) Richard Hammond. Well, it turns out they didn't so much "switch hosts" as much as "switch versions" of the show. Like The Office, there's both an American and a British version. Herzog hosts the American version while Hammond hosts the British one. (Like Yes Minister there's also an Indian version starring Manish Paul)

The American one, apparently, is no more: Herzog said he's getting fired, and no new episodes are being produced. National Geographic Channel in Canada just shrugged it off and replaced the Yankee version with the Brit one. George III goes from villain to hero, and a "wrench" is always called a "spanner", but otherwise the show proceeds pretty much as it did before.

Most tellingly, of course, it appears that most of the videos that the British version finds is made in the U.S. I'm sure a snarkier blogger would take this moment to blame the dumb Americans and their dumb anti-science ways (this has been a problem with U.S. TV producers lately), but I think a more telling fact is that America is a big country with lots of young people who do cool but ultimately dangerous tricks and stunts. I can't imagine drag racing or snowmobile jumping being particularly popular in England -- or Europe for that matter. The American tendency to be crazy daredevils is one of the reasons they win so many Nobel Prizes and Olympic medals.

As for the hosts, I much preferred Herzog. Neither he nor Hammond are exactly tied to science, but with Herzog his wilder and more casual style contrasted fairly well with the science. I imagine a Miles O'Brien type (or, come to think of it, a Miles O'Brien type) could speak with more authority and gravitas on the topic of the science, but then be a bit of a bore to listen to. Herzog fits well with the type of host you'd usually find on one of these shows, like Daniel Tosh or Rob Dyrdek, where you can envision the host finishing his day by running down to the nearest deserted rock quarry and trying out the same ridiculous and hazardous stunts he just finished filming a show about. The "street cred" factor comes into play here.

Hammond takes it from the other way: it doesn't sound like he's ever done any remotely dangerous stunt in his entire life (even though, as British fans surely would be aware, he totally has). He's got a soft-spoken tone where he basically chastizes anybody who's ever done anything more dangerous than getting out of an easy chair to go get a package of crisps. It's entirely possible that Hammond is doing this deliberately as a consequence of his own experience in the Vampire crash: he's done the crazy shit and dedicates his life to preventing such things from ever happening to others. Though in a segment on drag racing he seemed to pretty dryly describe the consequences of letting the physics fall by the wayside. The end result though, from the viewer's perspective, is to be hassled by some dotty David Tennant/Robin Sachs ripoff for daring to perform a few stunts and tricks.

The Science of Stupid is an interesting series, though as noted before it does sometimes have to stretch the definition of stupid. Past episodes have included people who have been injured training for gymnastics, which is in the friggin' Olympics. Yes, gymnasts can hurt themselves if they fall. Yes, proper application of many principles of mechanics is an interesting real-world physics application and improper application can be risky. But would you call this "stupid"? All athletes have a first time they've tried these stunts, from the gymnast to the BMX biker to the {guy currently practicing somewhere in the world right now a 'sport' that you or I have never heard of but will end up being in the Olympics or the X-Games before we die}. I'm sure the first guy to ever try jumping a hurdle looked stupid when he fell and broke a tooth. Just imagine, if Richard Hammond and National Geographic Channel were around in 1830s Cambridge they'd be doing snarky little segments showing men training for an upcoming hurdling match by running really fast and trying -- and often failing, hilariously -- at leaping over the heavy wooden obstacles thrown in the path.

Even Manish Paul couldn't have saved that.