to an engaging face of science
There has been a smorgasbord of science programmes on telly
since the beginning of the year starting with the supremely
eloquent and affable Prof Jim Al-Khalili guiding us through
the BBC's Secret Life of Chaos.
Chaos hit the mainstream in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic
Park when director Steven Spielberg made a brilliant choice
of casting Jeff Goldblum in the role of quirky but super cool
chaotician, Dr Ian Malcolm. Appreciating the science of the
boffins suddenly became de rigueur.
Almost two decades later and most people can sit and watch
an hour dedicated to some serious maths and physics without
straining too many of the little grey cells. But a lot of
that's due to the scientist who fronts the programme.
Pick some boring old duffer (my old chemistry teacher would
be a prime example) and you've switched over to What Katie
Did Next. Unbridled passion for their subject combined
with an ability to articulate their PhD thesis to lesser mortals,
makes the perfect science presenter.
But there must be substance with the style. I'm not talking
about having someone who looks good, sounds eloquent and reads
very efficiently from a teleprompt. No, I'm talking about
my English teacher who I still remember 25 years on because
of him, his love for our rich language and a sort of education
Take the likes of Profs Jim Al-Khalili and Brian Cox (www.fobblog.com/space)
giving it loads on life, the universe and everything from
a hard core science perspective and I'm feeling deprived they
didn't present lectures at my university. I'm glued to the
screen, hanging on every word and thinking about how it all
works for days afterwards.
Not so with the recent attempt by BBC3 to make a sort of science/investigative
journalism programme on why there is such a huge obesity problem
in the UK (excuse the pun). Fronted by a young woman who I
would described as goofy and, er, lightweight, Who Made
Me Fat? was a mess of silly TV with a few bits of grit
in a BBC3 attempt to capture the "yoof" audience.
The grit made compulsive viewing: The amount of refined sugar
added as a bulking agent to food products and the resulting
detrimental effects on the physiology and health of the human
body. The British Heart Foundation and diabetologists all
pitched in with indisputable scientific facts about the role
of excess sugar and saturated fat in our diets.
My personal favourite was the NHS Trust responsible for the
management of Addenbrooks hospital (the UK's leading heart
op and transplant facility) gave contracts to Burger King
to set up shop in the hospital foyer. Fantastic. Get your
new heart (your old one had blocked arteries from eating too
much saturated fat) and launch yourself at a big, fat burger
as you recover on the ward.
(And the very one-sided conversation with the abusive Ministry
of Health press officer refusing to give the BBC an appointment
to tackle Health minister Andy Burnham is excellent fodder
But, in the end, the programme didn't work because the presenter
lacked any credibility. The final confrontation edit with
the publc health minister with silly "top secret feeder
files" exposing the food industry was just cringe-worthy
and never going to be taken seriously.
Style won over substance and it really showed.