➤ Irrational, Professor Cox! Discussing science in a tent at Glastonbury?

Robin Ince, Brian Cox, Radio 4,Infinite Monkey Cage ,science

Two of the BBC monkeys: Robin Ince and co-host Brian Cox

❚ WHETHER OR NOT YOU BELIEVE in miracles, there was something pretty phenomenal about a BBC science show coming from the cabaret marquee over a ley-line at the Glastonbury rock festival, which some people believe is where the make-believe King Arthur’s sword was forged. Inevitably the show had to be fronted by that rock-star among physics professors, Brian Cox, he of Dare/D:Ream fame and today just about the biggest boffin in the telly cosmos. Yet today’s Radio 4 show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, billed as a comedy series, scored a spectacular first in the eternal struggle to explain science to people who think crystals run the world. Confronted with the potty view that scientists are no different from priests for “believing in” their theories, Cox & Co drew a very clear line between mysticism and the rational scientific method in, oh, two minutes flat.

A couple of hippy-dippy guests played the village idiots. Yes, Billy Bragg, we mean you. He’d heard that scientists believe the universe is 95% made of a “hidden mass” called dark matter which we can’t see or touch: “So you believe that, do you?”

Billy Bragg, Glastonbury,

Billy Bragg signing off at Glastonbury: “The space race is over” but how can he be sure?

Step up Professor Brian: “This was an observational statement. It was observed to be true. You have to believe the evidence because that’s what we measured.”

Mystic Bragg:
“But you have to have faith in the fact that the dark stuff is there?”

Prof Brian, offering himself up to the Wicker Man:
“Science is a system of thought that has no underlying prejudice. Science as a process is the absence of a belief system.”

Bragg: “There are areas of science where you don’t know exactly what’s happening so you have a series of beliefs to explain it … ”

Brian: “Theories.” [Exactly, silly Billy. Not beliefs.]

Bragg: “… That’s what religious people do. They explain the world by the existence of a supreme being. Isn’t there a similarity there?”

Prof Tony Ryan of Sheffield: “No! Scientists either search for a better theory (which is happening) or we search for the hidden mass (which is also happening). It’s not a belief system. It’s a belief in looking for evidence.”

[Cheers from the overwhelmingly rational Glastonbury audience. QED.]

➢ Listen to The Infinite Monkey Cage from Glastonbury
on the iPlayer


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