I’ve just heard that my favourite science podcast, The Naked Scientists is being axed from their radio slot at BBC East. I’m no longer a resident of that region and not a BBC fee payer, so my views might not count as much, but I wrote to BBC Radio 4 Feedback anyway. Below is my letter.
Dear BBC Feedback,
Please do not axe the Naked Scientists radio programme from BBC East. As a Cambridge University alumnus and a researcher, I have been a fan of the programme for a few years now, and would personally be very sad to see the programme go. However, I wanted to write to you as I see that much more than my personal education and entertainment is at stake here.
First, more and more of science is done in multidisciplinary groups, and it is getting vital to understand not only one’s own field deeply, but also have a good overall understanding of what is going on in other fields of science. To this end, I find the high quality science programming of the Naked Scientists extraordinarily suitable. I have just recently shifted to a new path in my own scientific career, and without access to such resources, I do not think this would be possible.
Second, popularising science is something that the scientific community needs to do more, and I think the public broadcasters should help in this effort, given how vital it is to inform the public about scientific advances. However, not many of us researchers are good in talking or writing about our own research, and we do not have the audiences to make these efforts worth while. Thus, we are not only in a dire need of people like the Naked Scientists who are actually good in both science and communication, but also in need of broadcasters that share the mission of serving the public not just for short term profit but for a better future.
Naked Scientist have managed to painstakingly build their own audience and the capabilities to serve as a bridge between scientists and the general public. It would be sad to see all that fall apart. Most of the academic research done in the universities is paid for by the tax payers, and a there is a lot of pressure to give back to the society. This is one of the key arguments for making scientific publications open access. Unfortunately, scientific papers need to be technical and complicated, as we write them for other scientists. Without high quality scientific journalism there is no way even educated non-specialists can find, let alone understand what the current trends and developments in science are, and how they might affect their lives. Science journalism in most news outlets suffers from lack of expertise in the actual scientific content, making the outlets and their audiences vulnerable to the biases in press releases and abstracts, and the resulting skewed and shallow view of research. None of this has ever been a problem for the Naked Scientists, and I think they serve as a model that should be adopted elsewhere, as well.
As I want to become a better communicator of my own research, I listen to a lot of science programming and read a lot of popular science books from around the world. So far nothing compares to the Naked Scientists. I use their programmes in teaching and am constantly impressed by their approach, which makes extremely difficult and cutting edge scientific questions understandable and relevant. You can hear and admire the large amount of work they put into their programmes, and their love for science as well as their enthusiasm is contagious.
I’ve heard that one of the arguments why the show would be axed is that it is not local enough for the regional manager Mick Rawsthorne. I find this argument weak, as the content of the show is produced by people in the “local” university, the University of Cambridge. Of course, science is global, and Cambridge is a global leader in science, but shouldn’t that just strengthen the case for broadcasting that global insight for the people in the region? Either Mr Rawsthorne has a very “League of Gentlemen” -like concept of what “local” means, or he is not disclosing the real reasons behind his decision. Whichever the case, I truly hope that this exceptional and exemplary programme could live on to enlighten locally, regionally, and globally.
soon-hopefully-PhD-from the Faculty of Music, University of Cambridge
Brain Research Unit | O.V. Lounasmaa Laboratory | Aalto University