Science show forgoes sound bites for discussions without constraint

Cambridge Nights

Cesar Hidalgo, a professor at MIT’s Media Lab, noticed something strange whenever news crews would film his colleagues, whether it was in a biology lab or in the halls of Harvard’s Kennedy Center: The lab coats and tweed jackets would come, the cameras would roll, and something vital was lost.

“What you’d see on television was very different from reality,” he said. “So I wanted to do something where they weren’t constrained to certain stereotypes or constrained to a ... 30-second sound bite.”

And so Hidalgo created Cambridge Nights, now in its second season, which offers in-depth conversations between him and his subjects tackling issues like the role of social networks on health, astrobiology, and the science of cities.

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The episodes, which are published every Wednesday online, also dive into the motivations of the researchers.

“It gets more emotional, and you start seeing the emotional connections these scientists have with their fields,” Hidalgo told me. “They are just like other people, but they happen to work in science. It’s showing them in a very human form.”

The show received a fair amount of attention in its first season — see the New York Times profile — and while it remains a niche audience, the programming is refreshing, particularly as others decry a lack of quality science reporting. And to be fair, Hidalgo’s reporting is not investigative or probing, but nor does it set out to be.

“As I interview them, my goal is not to confront them, but rather to provide a space where they can share their views and thoughts,” Hidalgo wrote, outlining the shows vision. “There are many high-speed formats out there. Cambridge Nights is an alternative where thoughts can be developed and reflected upon without the need to rush.”

Here’s a preview trailer of the second season, currently underway, and full interviews are available on Cambridge Nights’ website.

Cambridge Nights Season 2 Summary from Cambridge Nights on Vimeo.