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Under Laboratory Conditions January 11, 2006

Posted by ayasawada in Science, TV.
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BBC4’s new two-part series on the real world of science came recommended to us Science Communication students. No wonder, the programme covered just about everything we’ve talked about on our course so far, from the monotony of science, to the ‘publish or perish’ cycle and the public understanding of science and scientists.

Overall, I thought it very interesting, if only to see so many of the ideas we’ve been studying up on screen, voiced by the many illustrious scientists I’d previously only read about. I like the presentation of the programme, Daniel Glaser’s easy-going presenting intercut with ‘mad-scientist’ movies and black and white archive footage. But it probably reinforces the stereotypical image which it is trying to send up. On this note, I enjoyed the opening gambit where a group of primary school children were asked to draw their interpretation of a scientist and 80% came up with the ‘mad scientist’/Einstein image of the 60s. The arts Professor interviewed made the interesting point that we seem to be stuck in a time-warp in our view of scientists as secretive and mad, but trust science to come up with the next medical and technological miracles.

The rest of the programme racked up an exciting list of interviewees: Nancy Rothwell (who admittedly seems more and more asexual every time I see her), Robert May, Tim Hunt, Robert Winston. They even had John Copley, who lectured us just this week! Thankfully, they interviewed real, young PhD students too, so people see there are normal people doing research science and not just old men with crazy hair. Shame only one of them seemed to want to stay in science though. I twas also interesting to take a look at how different labs are managed and behind the scenes at Nature magazine. On a sour note, I didn’t agree with Glaser’s throw away comment that ‘publications pay the rent’. I know what he means (publications build your reputation), but the uninformed viewer might think you actually got paid for published papers.

The programme certainly did a good job of introducing the issues that encompass modern science today and if anything, an outsider watching would realise quite how complex (and indeed tedious) modern research science is. The final part next week deals with the issues surrounding research funding.

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