catalyst Maryanne Demasi

Australia doesn't have a lot in the way of science programming on primetime television. In fact, the only show to tackle science topics for Aussie TV is the science journalism series Catalyst, which has run for 16 seasons on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Unfortunately for viewers who have gotten used to Catalyst hitting the airwaves each week, the series is under review thanks to an outcry against one of its episodes that debuted earlier in 2016. The episode - entitled "Wi-Fried" - featured reporter Maryanne Demasi leading an investigation into a possible connection between Wi-Fi internet and brain tumors.

Scientists unconnected with Catalyst condemned the episode as lacking a solid foundation in real science and creating unsubstantiated links between Wi-Fi connections and brain tumors to scare the public, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. An independent investigation ruled that the episode breached the editorial standards of ABC, and the network is set to respond by apologizing to viewers, pulling the episode from the Internet, and reviewing Catalyst.

The "Wi-Fried" controversy is actually the second time that Catalyst has made headlines for airing an episode featuring questionable science. A 2013 installment examined whether or not the use of cholesterol-reducing medications was as effective as advertised. That episode was pulled in 2014.

Both the Wi-Fi and cholesterol medication episodes were fronted by Maryanne Demasi, who actually holds a doctorate and spent a decade as a research scientist. Her credentials as a scientist are solid, but the reactions to her involvement in the controversial episodes of Catalyst have worked against her. She has been suspended from Catalyst until at least September, and her work on "Wi-Fried" will soon be pretty hard to find. For the time being, however, the episode can still be found on YouTube. Check it out and see for yourself if "Wi-Fried" seems more like fear-mongering than science:

It's not difficult to see why people might not have felt too comfortable after watching a scientific episode about the possibility of Wi-Fi causing brain tumors in children. Catalyst is touted as a series that showcases all that Australia has to offer on the scientific frontier, so some degree of outrage can be expected about an installment that makes bold claims evidently without conclusive evidence to back them up. Still, the show also seeks to explore how knowledge of science is a dynamic force in developing and inspiring more and more investigation into what makes the world work. "Wi-Fried" can be considered an episode that showed an alternate viewpoint on how brain tumors are caused, rather than solely an episode designed to frighten the public.

It all comes down to a matter of perspective, I suppose. For the sake of Aussies who have Catalyst as their only source of primetime science TV, I hope that ABC's review won't mean an end to Catalyst after 16 years. We can only wait, see, and enjoy all the science TV that the U.S. has to offer.

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