Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?

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Offline Make it Lady

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« on: 08/02/2009 17:07:20 »
Britain is short of scientists. Richard Hammond of top gear fame is bringing out a new science program full of bangs and excitement. Can this kind of popularisation and over simplification of science encourage pupils to take up science as a career path later in life. Is Hammond a good role model for this purpose?   
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blakestyger

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #1 on: 08/02/2009 17:39:25 »
It's a sad fact of life that the role of TV naturalist has, since David Attenborough started to ease back, been hijacked by a chorusline of comedians and sports presenters. They are probably perfectly OK at what they did formerly but they are really crap at natural hisory.

Look at Oddy, for instance. Have you ever seen such a tired, lacklustre performance as the one he gives with Spring/Autumn Watch? His use of language and that seen-it-all-before tone he takes is totally inappropriate and in stark contrast with Attenborough's informed enthusiasm. Not only can he not be arsed to identify some of the more significant species (he completely missed some spoonbills on Brownsea Island) but whenever Kate Humble tries to make a point he either talks over her, makes some feeble joke of it or larks about with the cameraman.

Then there's Alan Titchmarsh...a perfectly competant plantsman trained at Kew and completely at home on Gardener's World. So What's he doing introducing a Prom' or that ghastly countryside series?

The problem is everything educational has to be tainted with celebrity and no-one seems capable of absorbing an idea without it being put across as entertainment - ask those teachers who are to be scored by their pupils as to whether they are boring or not.

Thankyou.
« Last Edit: 08/02/2009 22:44:38 by blakestyger »

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #2 on: 08/02/2009 21:49:09 »
Even Sir David has been know to make his own Colemanballs, on occasions.

I think we can be sure that Hammond will trivialise Science in the same way that he trivialises everything else. It may be entertaining but the odds are that, once the kids get to School next morning, there will be some serious repair work by the teachers needed for their scientific understanding.

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Offline DrN

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #3 on: 08/02/2009 22:03:14 »
An example of a fine way to encourage the interest of science in children is the Royal Institution christmas lectures. Pure genius - why are they restricted to just 5 lectures over christmas every year?! I didn't manage to see all of them this year, but loved the way he explained encryption (passwords and keys).

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blakestyger

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #4 on: 08/02/2009 22:42:05 »
I went the Natural History Museum two weeks ago and beneath the tail of the Diplodocus in the main hall was a young curator, sitting on a box and dressed as an explorer, explaining to groups of school children how to tell the difference between a fossil bone and a modern one. He was doing a splendid job - plenty of interaction and not too many concepts at a time and they were all listening and getting involved. Very heartening to see.

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #5 on: 08/02/2009 22:55:35 »
The two posts, above, describe what happens when you get someone who knows what they're talking about: smashing. But they're few and far between on kids' Science progs, I'm afraid.

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paul.fr

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #6 on: 08/02/2009 23:09:01 »
An example of a fine way to encourage the interest of science in children is the Royal Institution christmas lectures. Pure genius - why are they restricted to just 5 lectures over christmas every year?! I didn't manage to see all of them this year, but loved the way he explained encryption (passwords and keys).

you can buy them ondvd
http://www.rigb.org/contentControl?action=displayContent&id=00000002825

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Offline RD

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #7 on: 08/02/2009 23:10:06 »
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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
 
At least the Hamster will not talk down to children, (not possible as he is the same height  [:)] )

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Is Hammond a good role model for this purpose?

Richard is a model presenter, (about 1:10 scale [:)])  
« Last Edit: 10/02/2009 19:42:33 by RD »

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Offline LeeE

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #8 on: 08/02/2009 23:14:41 »
Any enthusiasm has got to be better than apathy.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #9 on: 10/02/2009 12:02:16 »
Enthusiasm is just not enough.
The problem is that there seem to be two forms of Science.
There is one which  appeals at a superficial level and which, apart from being entertaining, it achieves very little. It merely states the exiting bits of Science and makes extremely good TV. This is more or less all that the media give us and it now permeates higher and higher up the Educational  scale. It is one of the things which are responsible for the MMR thing to have happened and for Creationism to masquerade as Science.

The other Science is the one which actually gets results and gives us the real progress. It is hard and unforgiving but, ultimately, totally worthwhile. The mantra of 'comprehensive Education' is imposed where it is just not applicable - life is not comprehensive and nor are the demands of the world. There will always be an elite needed in Science, just as there is an elite in Finance, Football and Film. How come it's not PC to acknowledge that fact and to allow that elite to develop? It's still only in parts of the Independent Sector that it can happen.

The problem is that those who have never tasted the real thing seem to think there is no distinction between the two. Unfortunately, at School, students are not exposed to the level of demand of proper Science until it is too late. They have decided that they 'like Science' without knowing what it's really about and then they resent or even ignore, the sudden rigour to which they are exposed. Further education has to be more and more diluted to allow 'good grades' to be achieved until Universities have to spend at least one whole year putting things in some sort of order before they can teach some serious Science.
Complain about standards and you get told off of for devaluing the students efforts but it, of course, isn't their fault. I can't see how this is to be remedied until Science education (and the whole of Education, actually) is removed from the political arena and until the politicians can bring themselves to increase the timescales of their interferences and judge the success of  educational strategies over at least a generation. One Government term of office is far too short a timescale.  That would very soon cause the 'political Educationists' to move their attentions elsewhere and let the system be regulated in the shorter term by people who actually have an idea what it's all about.
« Last Edit: 10/02/2009 12:05:16 by sophiecentaur »

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Offline neilep

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #10 on: 10/02/2009 12:19:02 »
Hammond already presents a Science show somewhere.

I suppose the numbers will determine how popular he is.

It would be better, in my opinon, if he shared equal billing with a true scientist too.

Bring back Magnus Pyke !
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Offline dentstudent

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #11 on: 10/02/2009 12:23:25 »
Hammond already presents a Science show somewhere.

Brainiacs, I think. And I would not really call it a science programme, either.

Bring back Tomorrow's World!

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Offline LeeE

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #12 on: 10/02/2009 17:14:07 »
Sophie: Enthusiasm may not be enough for a full understanding but you're only aware of that with the benefit of your hindsight.  I'm sure it was a long road that got you to where you are now and there's no way that that road, in all it's detail, can be compressed in to a TV series.  I just think that anything that may get someone started on that road is a good idea, even if it's not perfect.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #13 on: 10/02/2009 18:21:26 »
I take your point, to some extent. But I'm not complaining about the lack of detail- there are  many very un-detailed aspects of proper Science. My problem is that the attitude of many presenters devalues the whole thing. They are in it, of course, not for the good of Science but because it is a vehicle for their egos and carreers. Next week they could be doing a gardening or cooking programme.

I am generalising, of course, and there are exceptions like Adam Hart Davis, for instance, who can ham it up with the best of them and yet still get some worthwhile Science and Engineering ideas across.
Hammond has found a 'Science is fun slot' and, as in Braniac, the message will be lost in the presentation.
In any case, where does the idea come from that "Learning must be Fun"?  Is that really the only way to get people to 'try'?  There is no true gain without pain - we soon find that when we grow up, so why is that ignored in School?
Making an effort and getting a good result really is 'fun'. Learning to have that sort of fun - active fun - would be a good idea for everyone. Passively watching a movie of someone blowing up a caravan is hardly any better than watching Tom and Jerry.

My appreciation of this is not only based on hindsight (not decades of it). It was equally pleasing when I got some in depth understanding of simple circuits or heat transfer experiments during O level lessons. Left to myself, I would never have made the mature decision to make the effort in those days. I needed to be prodded (as ever) to get there.
'Prodding' is out of fashion, nowadays.

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Offline LeeE

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #14 on: 10/02/2009 18:29:52 »
Hitting people with the 'pain' side of things just when they're starting is only going to appeal to masochists.  Everyone else needs a bit of reward before realising that there may be something to be gained on the other side of the pain.

Besides, I just don't agree that pain is necessary for gain, which isn't to say that it often is that way, just that it's a posteriori truth and not an A priori truth.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #15 on: 10/02/2009 19:56:05 »
Perhaps not pain. But perspiration is essential.

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Offline LeeE

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #16 on: 11/02/2009 13:13:17 »
Oh yes - sweaty can be fun  [;)]
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #17 on: 11/02/2009 15:13:07 »
To much information, I think. (In School, too!)

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Offline daveshorts

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #18 on: 12/02/2009 19:15:17 »
I think that reward (eg bangs, pops, slime etc) is very important when trying to get people interested in science, but rewards teach people how to behave. If you attach the reward to learning interesting things then people will start to like learning things even without the reward and go on to be fascinated by science for the rest of their lives, and some of them may go on to discover/invent loads of exciting new things.

However if you just associate the reward with watching TV then people will just learn to watch TV. A far less useful thing for society. And if someone else then tries to use the reward to teach them something it won't have nearly as much effect.

This is why I don't like Brainiac and similar shows, they may make the results of science fun, but they don't make the learning and exploration of science fun and that is what is important.

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lyner

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #19 on: 12/02/2009 22:58:21 »
Yes; passive watching doesn't encourage 'thinking' or enquiry.

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Offline LeeE

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #20 on: 13/02/2009 00:16:42 »
I have to wonder how you two got interested in science in the first place if you seem to be so negative about efforts to get other people interested in it.  Perhaps you both had really inspiring teachers, or someone like that, but then that argument would lead to the conclusion that the only valid route to becoming interested in science is if you have such an inspiration; no other route is worth following.

I'm honestly a bit disappointed in you both because you both seem to be criticising something just because it isn't perfect or ideal.
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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Offline chris

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #21 on: 13/02/2009 09:11:42 »
I agree with Dave and SC, but not for complete the same reasons. The problem I have with it is that Richard Hammond enables the BBC to say that they are investing heavily in "science". And because they've got that box ticked that means there's less motivation, and fewer resources, to invest in higher quality programmes with higher aspirations.

It's fine to have a few fun programmes like that, but not to set the standard by them.

What needs to happen is that we get some BBC producers and commissioners with science degrees rather than arts degrees. Then we might get somewhere.

Science is viewed with huge scepticism by media producers, who don't understand it themselves (not surprising because many of them have no qualifications in the subject) so they think it's a) boring b) baffling and c) incapable of being pulled off without a "celebrity" attached to it to make it saleable.

In rare circumstances where a producer or editor does come from a scientific background the emphasis is totally different.

Chris
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paul.fr

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #22 on: 13/02/2009 11:12:06 »
Having only watched two episodes of Brainiac my impression is that it does not set itself out to be an educational programme, it is strictly a whiz, bang pop programme. (In the episodes i have seen) they do not attempt to give scientific explanations of their antics, just "WOW, lets see that again"

It is good at what it does, captivate an audience that like watching explosions and silly youtube stuff. It is not good at being a science education programme because it is not set out to be one.

But it could be used as an educational programme if teachers would ask their students about the episodes they are discussing, and then use that as a base to teach the whys and hows.

Edit:
Isn't it a Sky programme and not a BBC one?

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Offline Make it Lady

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #23 on: 13/02/2009 18:50:20 »
I posted this because I think there is a definite lack of science programmes for children on television now. We used to have HOW and HOW 2. Adam Hart-Davis was also pretty damned good too. These were both produced by a guy called Jonathan Sanders. He is now working for Planet-scicast which is an internet site for teachers. He can't get work on TV because the money isn't forthcoming. I like the whizz Bang programmes as much as any other entertainment program and would like to think that this would be a good introduction to science but once the child gets into school they are bored witless by science teachers that lack experience. The new science curriculum has gone some way to address the problem of lack of practical led lessons but it went so far that it removed most of the theory. Previously it had been theory heavy. Lots of science teachers are not confident enough to run a practical based curriculum as they are poorly trained. The lack of good science teachers also means that none scientists are often put in front of science classes.
Primary teachers are expected to teach science to a higher level than ever before without any science training.
When I last taught I was told off for over exciting the children in my classes so that they didn't want to sit and copy off the board in the following class. I think school could learn a lot from populist science and populist TV should be a little more responsive to informing their audience.   
« Last Edit: 13/02/2009 18:52:44 by Make it Lady »
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Offline LeeE

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« Reply #24 on: 13/02/2009 20:22:16 »
I think you all have to ask who you are really criticising here?  Is it the producers of the shows, who put on something that enough people will want to watch to justify the cost, or the majority of people who don't understand strict science and who wouldn't watch strict science programmes because they can't or won't put in the necessary effort to understand them?  In fact, why aren't you criticising the media in general, which has a lamentable record regarding accuracy right across the board?

The real issue is that the media, in all it's forms, tries to provide what it thinks people want for entertainment, and in view of it's popularity, it is getting it more right than wrong.  If there's a problem anywhere it is with people in general, who don't want to have to work at their entertainment, perhaps because they've just come home from working all day.

In the end, it really comes down to criticising other people for not wanting to do what we enjoy doing, and who has a right to say what other people should enjoy?
...And its claws are as big as cups, and for some reason it's got a tremendous fear of stamps! And Mrs Doyle was telling me it's got magnets on its tail, so if you're made out of metal it can attach itself to you! And instead of a mouth it's got four arses!

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Offline DrN

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #25 on: 13/02/2009 22:20:38 »
TV should be to inform and entertain - we've got the entertainment, so where's the information? I agree with one of the earlier comments, Tomorrow's world was brilliant. I also remember Johnny Ball being fantastic when I was young. I used to watch all these types of programmes with my dad, and I really think that's what got me interested in science. And I mean proper science. I don't think Brainiac would have had the same effect - sure, it's entertaining, and it's based on science, but it doesn't really inspire or encourage people to find out more about anything.

I've been to a couple of events at the Dana centre (at the Science Museum in London), and they really are fantastic - often the most interesting nuggets are the applications of fairly mundane scientific discoveries, and learning about how the most off-the-wall types of research can impact significantly on our lives. The one that stands out the most was the 'smell' session a couple of years ago, where we discovered just how many applications an 'electronic nose' may have - including the potential for sniffing out cancer cells. This is how science should be presented on our TVs!

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Offline daveshorts

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #26 on: 16/02/2009 09:33:43 »
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The real issue is that the media, in all it's forms, tries to provide what it thinks people want for entertainment, and in view of it's popularity, it is getting it more right than wrong.  If there's a problem anywhere it is with people in general, who don't want to have to work at their entertainment, perhaps because they've just come home from working all day.

That argument works in the US, as you have a series of purely commercial TV stations who do only have a duty to their shareholders. So they will give people something between what they want and what is easy to give them. But in the UK we have a license fee designed to allow the BBC to give us programs that we need rather than we want, and channel4 is owned by the government and has public service obligations.

Obviously this doesn't mean that they should make programmes which noone wants to watch, but it does mean that they should be putting more effort and airtime into good solid science programmes than the audience would possibly justify.

Instead we have a situation where there is probably less money and airtime devoted to science and technology than the audience demands. Which is probably something to do with the interests and education of the commissioning editors...

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In the end, it really comes down to criticising other people for not wanting to do what we enjoy doing, and who has a right to say what other people should enjoy?

No it comes down to criticising a public service broadcaster who gets a tax in order to not just give people what they want  but what they need, not giving the population as many decent science programs as it needs (or probably wants) to be healthy wealthy and wise.

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Offline DrN

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #27 on: 16/02/2009 21:51:20 »
I agree. Without wishing the BBC to become a government mouthpiece, it does have a responsibility to use our licence fee appropriately.

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paul.fr

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #28 on: 16/02/2009 22:38:03 »
But appropriately to you, them and I are differnet things. Those of you (us) that want or would like more fact based science programming I would say are the minority, the BBC are giving the masses what they want...cheap crappy productions that do not tax or exert and are sprinkled with "celebrities".

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Offline BenV

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #29 on: 16/02/2009 23:31:58 »
TV should be to inform and entertain - we've got the entertainment, so where's the information? I agree with one of the earlier comments, Tomorrow's world was brilliant. I also remember Johnny Ball being fantastic when I was young. I used to watch all these types of programmes with my dad, and I really think that's what got me interested in science. And I mean proper science. I don't think Brainiac would have had the same effect - sure, it's entertaining, and it's based on science, but it doesn't really inspire or encourage people to find out more about anything.

I've been to a couple of events at the Dana centre (at the Science Museum in London), and they really are fantastic - often the most interesting nuggets are the applications of fairly mundane scientific discoveries, and learning about how the most off-the-wall types of research can impact significantly on our lives. The one that stands out the most was the 'smell' session a couple of years ago, where we discovered just how many applications an 'electronic nose' may have - including the potential for sniffing out cancer cells. This is how science should be presented on our TVs!

Our own Meera Senthilingam has been involved in setting some of those up!

I'd agree - I grew up with Johhny Ball (BBC), How2 (ITV), Tomorrows World (BBC), then Scrapheap Challenge (C4), even Time Team (C4)... It's so easy for TV to inspire.

With regards the other discussion - does TV give people waht they need, or what they want - people actually do want more science.  The Eurobarometer Survey in 2000 (not sure if they've updated it on these themes since) showed, basically, that the amount of sport coverage roughly matched the demand, but the amount of science coverage was far below the demand (defined at the number of people saying "I an interested in science and technology" vs the number saying "I feel I am well informed...").  Chris knows more about this, and I'd have to dig out the survey to give you figures.  It would be interesting to sit down with commisioning editors and get their reactions to that survey.

I should add though, that both Hammond and his erstwhile Top Gear colleague James May have both made good engineering series recently, and natural history is, as always, very well served.
« Last Edit: 16/02/2009 23:40:07 by BenV »

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paul.fr

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Can Richard Hammond bring children into science?
« Reply #30 on: 17/02/2009 10:14:36 »
With regards the other discussion - does TV give people waht they need, or what they want - people actually do want more science.  The Eurobarometer Survey in 2000 (not sure if they've updated it on these themes since) showed, basically, that the amount of sport coverage roughly matched the demand, but the amount of science coverage was far below the demand (defined at the number of people saying "I an interested in science and technology" vs the number saying "I feel I am well informed..."). 

Doesn't it depend on the question ,how it's phrased and how people then interpret the question? A simple yes to the question "I an interested in science and technology" does not mean the person wants to see more of it on the TV.

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Offline BenV

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« Reply #31 on: 17/02/2009 13:31:03 »
I'm afraid I can't quite remember the exact wording, but the survey was designed to answer questions about science in the media, so I'm fairly certain they will have worded it less ambiguously than me!