This week, in honour of National Science and Engineering Week, I’ve asked some scientists to tell us what’s good about science on television – and what kind of shows they’d develop if they had the chance.
Dr Pete Moore (Scientist & Author) votes for enthusiasm tempered with reality:
“I loved Brian Cox’s recent Horizon programme on nuclear fission. It exuded enthusiasm about the subject, without falling into the twin traps of scaremongering or over-selling the chance of success. In terms of style, the programme broke the over-used simplistic ‘rules’ of three part stanzas and always having the presenter eyeballing a camera as they walk along. Instead he spoke naturally, frequently sat still to talk, gazed at the floor and simply looked natural.
What I would like to do is repeat this in the biological sciences. In my book, Enhancing Me: The Hope and the Hype of Human Enhancement, I look at the realistic chance of enhancement technologies working. If you talk to the enthusiasts as recent programs have done, you get the impression that enhancement is just around the corner. Talk to the experts in the science, and the story is very difficult. There are immense challenges to overcome, vast gulfs to be crossed, but at the same time there are fascinating insights in how our cells, organs and bodies work that could make for engaging, entertaining and life enhancing TV.”
Dr Heather Couper (Astronomer & Broadcaster) enjoys science programmes that are interwoven with interesting human stories:
“By seeing science in close-up, people can understand how it underpins our culture. You can’t do much better than the C4 programme on the recent snowfalls Snowstorm: Britain’s Big Freeze. It was produced by Pioneer Productions – the company that I helped to set up (no bias!!) – and, after 10pm, cornered 12.5% of the viewing market. Like all the best science programmes on TV, it mixed a minimal amount of science with fascinating human stories. Time Team also comes to mind.
I’d love to present a regular astronomy slot, which would include space news (one of my pals has already paid his HUGE deposit to fly into space on Virgin Galactic). For me, the wonder about astronomy is that it’s a showcase of human understanding – it includes art, literature, music, life sciences, cutting-edge research …”
Dr Nyokabi Musila (Holistic Pharmacist) takes a global view:
“A week dedicated to the celebration of science is a fantastic endeavour, but it would not be successful were it to exist in isolation. Public accessibility to scientific knowledge via a host of other forums including television is vital to keep a society involved in issues that have an impact on their lives.
My dream science presenting job on television is one where I would take viewers back in time to ancient indigenous cultures across the globe – the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia – to investigate and gain a better understanding of how ancient knowledge, particularly in medicinal plants and health, can be directly applicable to our current lifestyles in modernity.”
Ben Jarvis (Rocket Scientist & Space Flight Expert) sees an opportunity to tell exciting stories full of drama:
“Science week is, a chance to shout from the rooftops “Look, science is not only exciting but it affects every aspect of your life, science is important!”. And TV is a perfect way to enthuse the public about science.
Reading a book about how the chemical reactions within a rocket engine produce high-pressure gases is nothing compared to seeing a slow-motion video of a real rocket lifting off. It’s all about finding ways to convey the excitement, drama and all-encompassing importance of science to as many people as possible.
I came into the field of rocket-science from a non-scientific background as a young adult. I find that freshness means that for me science is still something pretty wondrous and exciting and I love having the opportunity to share that newfound passion with other people.”
Rachel Brooksby (Science, Technology & Engineering) is keen to encourage women to get involved in science:
I hope that by seeing me on TV, I can help more girls to see that its possible to be a scientist or an engineer and still be cool, fashionable, and feminine.
Science s is the stuff that brought us here, and what makes up the world around us. I don’t know how anyone could say that was dull!”
Dr Harry Witchel (Scientist & Body Language Expert) laments the loss of a classic science show:
“Since the elimination of Tomorrow’s World, science on TV has become so much less visible with very few platforms from which to promote itself and what is there is, is of lower quality.
Dr Manjir Samanta-Laughton (Medical doctor turned Rebel Scientist & Author) thinks we need to drag programmes out of the past:
“Most science programmes on TV make me feel like I have stepped into a time machine and transported back a few decades. They are a quantum leap away from the true science picture that is happening in the world today. There is no excuse for it – a decade ago to suggest that a film about quantum physics could pack out cinemas across the world would be ludicrous, now, with What The Bleep Do We Know!?
we know it to be true.
Why has mainstream TV not taken note of the growing movement that is occurring? The public are voting with their feet and want more films about the true science of reality, but the established opinion is hell bent on suppressing this movement and pretending that it is fringe. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone stuck their neck out and gave people what they have proved they want?
I would love to present a programme that highlights the real developments in science, the ideas from the cutting edge that ignite the awe and imagination of people young and old, allowing them to explore a new level of reality and get excited about their universe again. I have experienced this in my live talks many times – to bring this excitement to a wider audience on TV would be a dream come true.”
Prof Susan Blackmore – (Science, Evolution & Psychology) believes psychological rewards come from tackling difficult subjects:
“The popular trend is for saying that science is “easy and fun” but in truth science is difficult (see my blog).
The best books and the best TV programmes make difficult subjects worth struggling with. A quote on the cover of the “Selfish Gene” says it “makes the reader feel like a genius”. I want to make TV programmes that do the same – not by simplifying but by challenging the viewer to concentrate hard and work to understand the ideas so that they too feel a sense of achievement.”
.[Prof Blackmore has recently taken part in an innovative multiplatform science film called Why is Science Important? Read more.]
*Check out some fascinating lectures by academics from the Ivy League Universities on Academic Earth
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