Education or Entertainment?

With the return to campus, it is now possible to have conversations with colleagues who you bump into during the course of the day.

I had one such interaction last week. I was greeted with the exclamation,

‘Oh, I have a question for you!  Which Anatomy Act brought in the ability to donate your body?’

Bit of a strange opener but I confirmed it was the first act in 1832.  

You had actually always been able to donate your body if you wanted to but after the Anatomy Act came in in 1832, Jeremy Bentham famously left his body to anatomists and an auto icon was created which is still on display in London.

Second question, how long is a body left embalming before it is dissected?

 At this point I thought this was a bit strange.  I was fairly sure this person knew the answer to this so I took a punt.

‘Did you watch silent witness this week?’

What followed was a 20 minute conversation about all the things that we didn’t thing had been portrayed quite accurately in the television series. This included the rather alarming fact that a donor body had been dissected when the family had objected.

Which brings me back to the title.  Are these programs to educate or entertain?

I know a couple of people who have had short careers in forensics.  They went into the role not realising that there is a lot of sticking to the rules, ensuring everything is done the same, every single time.  They maybe thought they were going to undertake post mortems, do all the lab analysis, interview witnesses and even track down killers, all the things we see a single character doing in many tv series.  That is what makes the program entertaining.

Is there an onus to make sure our entertainment is educational or at least not factually incorrect?

I have been watching the Dexter box sets. The picture on the right here was described as a clean cut between the tarsal bones.

I think we all know it is nothing of the sort. If you want more examples you only have to google Dexter anatomical mistakes to be shown a selection of poorly described injuries.

Does it matter – does it detract from the entertainment of the show? I’m not sure it does, but we need to be sure that people are not accepting fictional TV shows as a source of knowledge.

I have not watched any of Gray’s Anatomy but I have been advised never to watch it in the company of anyone medically qualified. A google search for their mistakes produces a long list.

I’m maybe showing my age but I did watch Top Gun with two RAF pilots. I am assured that apparently the missiles fire as soon as they lock on to the target in that model of plane.

I remember them correcting the error in that film decades later. Maybe we should be looking at these errors as opportunities to engage in a bit of SciComm and ensure that people remember the correct information rather than complaining that they should employ more qualified researchers, although if Hollywood wants an anatomical fact checker, I am open to offers.


Sent from my iPad

Author: Anatomy Fundamentals

Janet Philp has spent a lifetime exploring fitness and wellbeing. Starting in group exercise, travelling through rugby to representing the UK at martial arts before including Yoga, meditation, Budokon and personal instruction. Her passion is anatomical function and educating people to use their bodies to their full potential.

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