What IS the most important scientific breakthrough of last fifty years?

 

It seems odd to accuse the BBC of “hiding” a television programme in a prime time slot on their flagship channel, but amidst the hype for their Christmas schedule I saw no advertising whatsoever for the latest Robert Winston vehicle How Science Changed Our World (BBC1, 20:00, 23rd December, 60 mins). This is a huge pity because the documentary shone an engaging spotlight on ten important scientific advances of the past 50 years.

Robert Winston chooses his list of the top ten scientific breakthroughs of the past 50 years

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Science and Television: friend or foe?

I’m a big fan of both science and television and have blogged previously about their inter-relationship (e.g. Science on the telly and A new model for interaction of scientific research and TV?).  I was therefore very interest to hear Physicist and former pop star Prof Brian Cox delivering the 2010 Huw Wheldon lecture on the topic Science: A Challenge to TV Orthodoxy (available on BBC iPlayer until December 8th).

As the presenter of the excellent Wonders of the Solar System, Cox is ideally positioned to examine the tensions between science and television which, he notes, is “the primary medium for the dissemination of scientific knowledge to the non-specialist public” (01:25).

Brian Cox

Brian Cox is Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester

There are, Cox notes, incompatibilities between the goals of science and television; though he is keen to emphasise that these are “occasional” and that he does not subscribe to the model that there are serious deficiencies in TV’s coverage of science. For example, a practising scientist must never have an eye on the audience, which would de facto compromise the impartiality of the process (08:10). In contrast, television must have their viewers (and reviewers) in mind. Continue reading