Órbita Laika came into being back in 2014 with one very clear objective: to discuss science in a different way. At that time, and with one or two honorable exceptions, TV science shows in Spain tended to be a barren lot indeed, designed to target a vocational minority. It was like the scientific popularizers, discouraged by TV networks, had thrown in the towel. Relegated to unpopular time slots, prestigious scientists spoke with monotonous cadence in a world of white coats, Petri dishes, and microscopes.
Things were shaping up very differently however in the Anglo-Saxon world, and in both the United Kingdom and the United States, science was being presented in fresh, novel formats, relying heavily on the use of attractive colorful backdrops, diversity and a narrative for the person on the street, striving to strike the perfect balance between rigor and entertainment and Órbita Laika was keen to join the party.
That said, it wouldn’t be entirely true to say it was an exception as also in 2014, several shows of alternative outreach initiatives sprouted up across the country. Stand-up shows written and performed by researchers, mass events featuring scientific content, podcasts and YouTube channels attracting (literally) millions of viewers. In this context, Órbita Laika brought its own unique formula to the table, presenting a science show that made content accessible and popular to all audiences and pulling it off in prime time on the national broadcasters most popular channel La 2, produced by K2000 and with the essential backing from the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT).
Since then, the program has passed through different hands, has changed face, day, time and form, but the essence remains. After seven years on air, Órbita Laika remains determined to depict the world around us for viewers in a way that is not only intelligible but also alluring.
Right from the start, all of us who were involved in the project were convinced that the scientific dissemination among the general public was fundamental. Many of the decisions we are forced to make as citizens, voters, and consumers, are based on scientific matters. Climate change, waste management, energy resources or health policy are just a few examples, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, as the number of issues increases day-by-day.
There’s no question that the nation’s education cannot be left entirely in hands of television, and it shouldn’t be either. That’s what the educational system is for. But the absolute reign of the media, and television (for now), should assume part of the responsibility for the task and especially public broadcasters, given their foundational objectives which includes educating and training the public in all matters relevant.
In 2014, who would have ever imagined that in a few years the entire planet would become familiar with concepts like PCR, messenger RNA and clinical trials as, among other issues, the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of a scientifically well-informed society.
In this sense, the case of the anti-vaccine movement is paradigmatic, fueled in part by ignorance of scientific methods, processes and systems. Their champions rely on a concept ad infinitum on Órbita Laika; the fact thatscience is not infallible. And of course, it isn’t. But, unlike other knowledge systems, science is based on self-correction, on the constant revision of postulates, even the most basic ones. Hence, for example, despite a wealth of evidence, the Big Bang theory still remains a theory. In this sense, the anti-vax campaigners are right, in that science is not a perfect system. It is, quite simply, the best of everything we know at present.
In the latest season of Órbita Laika, now on air, we talked about the need to exercise critical skepticism, but not out of mere mistrust towards institutions. Skepticism must be accompanied by the search for information, the desire to document and contrast, to understand more and better. Only in this way can we create a more informed, cultured society and, as such, more prepared for the world that is coming, which is already here. From our modest window on La 2, each week, we strive to do our bit.