What is the origin of the Tangled Bank Studios name?

The “tangled bank” reference comes from the poetic final paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. It refers to how all life forms are inextricably bound to each other in a way that can seem chaotic but, in fact, is guided by natural laws. Understanding these laws and making sense of the chaos are the heart of scientific discovery and, we think, a great adventure. Our aspiration is to bring viewers along on this adventure and to make it as real, immediate, and meaningful as it is for the scientists themselves.

It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

-Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

What is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)? What does HHMI do?

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is one of the nation's largest philanthropies. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan medical research organization, HHMI advances biomedical research and science education in the United States. The Institute employs hundreds of leading biomedical scientists working at the forefronts of their fields. HHMI’s science education programs are helping to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research.

Why did HHMI create a production company?

Television and film are powerful tools for bringing stories to life, and we believe that powerful films about scientific discovery have tremendous potential to inspire the next generation of scientists. We work with the best storytellers and the scientists to bring science – real, cutting-edge, complex science – to large audiences. We believe there has never been a greater need for this kind of storytelling, given the many ways science and technology shape our daily lives.

Producing films about science builds on HHMI’s longstanding commitment to science education. While our formal science education programs through HHMI BioInteractive focus primarily on education in the classroom, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios films are made for broad audiences.

Finally, we believe it is important to support both broadcasters and filmmakers who are committed to telling great stories about science with depth, accuracy and creativity. Commercial pressures and tighter budgets have made it harder to produce the best science content at a time when understanding science has never been more important. We aspire to help filmmakers do their best possible work and to get these great stories distributed widely.

How do you work with scientists?

We work closely with scientists, both on and off camera, to find the most compelling stories and ensure they are told in an engaging and substantive way. Scientists and other experts are chosen for inclusion in our productions based on the quality of their work, their work's relevance to the film, and their communication skills on camera. We also work extensively with scientific experts off-camera to ensure that our coverage is deep and accurate. 

How do you guarantee accuracy and balance?

HHMI Tangled Bank Studios aspires to high standards of journalistic balance and accuracy. Each of our productions has a panel of expert advisors, who work with us from preproduction through completion to help us tell each story in the most balanced and accurate way possible. Our films will be fact-checked to a high standard, with a minimum of two annotated sources for each assertion of fact. For more detail, please see our Guide to Standards and Practices.

What science topics do you cover?

HHMI Tangled Bank Studios is an initiative of the HHMI Department of Science Education, whose mission is to promote science education. Our films span a broad spectrum of science and exploration including biology, medicine, Earth science, and astronomy.