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.
Perhaps inevitably, given Winston’s own background, there was a bias in the coverage towards developments in molecular bioscience. Many of the advances have ethical dimensions and I plan to comment on those more fully over at bioethicsbytes. For now, here is a summary of Winston’s 10 key breakthroughs in the order discussed:
The list is somewhat idiosyncratic and, to my mind, includes several entries that have yet to justify their inclusion. Non-biologists might argue that other fields of science are under-represented. Teflon was too early a discovery to fit the criteria but there must be a whole range of other polymers that have a proven track record of changing our lives. Pharmaceutical chemistry must also have generated a number of candidate molecules worthy of inclusion.
Ultimately I think that the Human Genome Project will prove to be truly revolutionary, but we are just starting to reap the benefits of this huge investment. Purely in terms of impact on the largest number of the earth’s population I would guess that either the microchip or the Internet would have to be the winner (with the contraceptive pill as the most significant biological innovation).
What do you think? There is an opportunity to register your vote on the BBC Science page. There is no closing date advertised, but the result is due to be revealed at 2:30 pm on Monday January 10th (it says 2010 but presumably means 2011 unless time-travel should have made it onto the list.)
The programme was available on iPlayer until 22:59 on Thursday 30th December 2010. TRILT members can obtain copies for education use from the BUFVC. The TRILT code for the episode is 018B1255.