Tag Archives: science

➤ Prof Brian Cox riotiously funny at stand-up debut, just in case the TV career doesn’t work out

Prof Brian Cox , Institute of Physics, video, media,science,journalism,education,

Are we going to die next Wednesday? Brian Cox talks of “a new golden age of physics” while lampooning idiot coverage by the press. Click picture to open video in a new window

❚ SCIENCE’S TV SUPERSTAR effortlessly passed his audition last night to become a stand-up comedian. After receiving a deeply serious medal at the Institute of Physics, Prof Brian Cox OBE made a highly intelligent yet laugh-out-loud speech attacking rubbish journalism and various politicians, while pouring scorn on homeopathists and other dreamers in la-la land.

The 44-year-old particle physicist has spent the past few years building a media career, explaining the universe from the tops of mountains in a string of TV series including Wonders of the Universe, plus The Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 and as a live stage show, while popping up on 6Music’s breakfast show. Cox’s prodigious and wide-ranging efforts to popularise science persuaded People magazine to include the former the keyboard player for the pop group D:Ream in their list of Sexiest Men Alive. Last night’s speech also threw down an epic challenge to the British government to wake up to the needs of education in science and technology.

➢ Professor Brian Cox’s own website

➢ View Cox’s webcast at Institute of Physics website

➢ Q: If you put your hand in the beam of the Large Hadron Collider what would happen to your hand? A: “It would hurt quite a bit” — Boffins respond at the Sixty Symbols website


➤ All milk and honey as Paxo and Dawkins dispute myth versus truth

Jeremy Paxman, Richard Dawkins , Newsnight,Magic of Reality , interview,

Paxman v. Dawkins on Newsnight: nine priceless minutes of television (BBC)

❚ TOP-CLASS NEWSNIGHT INTERVIEW LAST NIGHT! Did you know “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, aka the evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins, could laugh? Or that British television’s one-man Spanish Inquisition, Jeremy Paxman, could even contemplate a honeyed whisper? Well not only did the pair dance through a good-humoured sparring-match about the poetic merits of fairytales and/or science — “the false” versus “the true” in the Prof’s universe — but each managed to make the other laugh.

Paxo kept the debate brisk with his cogent interventions, though when he suggested that religions tend to make societies hang together, the Prof riposted with a smile: “You don’t believe that, do you?” As rewarding a TV interview as you’ve seen in ages; nine priceless minutes well worth catching on the iPlayer.

Magic of Reality, book title, Richard Dawkins, Dave McKean,Dawkins has written a new book called The Magic of Reality which is aimed at the young as a warning against “believing in anti-scientific fairytales”, whether those are myths from ancient civilisations or, if we need reminding, religious doctrines such as creationism. Last night’s TV parley was careful not to revisit the Prof’s pet topic published as his 2006 book The God Delusion, which he calls “probably the culmination” of his campaign against religion.

When Paxo maintained that mythology makes for better stories than straight fact, Dawkins said he wasn’t knocking storytelling, but genuinely thinks man’s evolution is more exciting and poetic than, say, Judeo-Christian myth. “We started off on this planet, this speck of dust, and in four billion years we gradually changed from bacteria into us. That is a spell-binding story.”

Some might say Dawkins the militant atheist was being unreasonably reasonable! He genially confessed he finds the Bible’s Book of Genesis affecting — “as a story, as long as you don’t think it’s true. The trouble is that 40% of the American people think it’s literally true”.

➢ Newsnight for Sep 13 is available on the iPlayer for a week

➢ The Magic of Reality: How we know what’s really true, by Richard Dawkins (Bantam Press £10) — Novelist Philip Pullman says: “It’s the clearest and most beautifully written introduction to science I’ve ever read.”

➢ The non-profit organisation the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (RDFRS) was founded in 2006

Lalla, a footnote to history

Doctor Who, Lalla Ward, Tom Baker, Douglas Adams, Leisure Hive,

Lalla Ward and her Doctor Who, Tom Baker: on Brighton beach filming The Leisure Hive episode (1980)

Richard Dawkins, tie, Lalla Ward,❏ Prof Dawkins mentioned last night that the extracts from his book were being read on Newsnight by “Lalla”. This refers to Lalla Ward, once the wife of actor Tom Baker, the fourth and most memorable Doctor Who from the 1970s, opposite whom she played Romana the Time Lady. It was her long-standing friend Douglas Adams, a Monty Python and Doctor Who scriptwriter best known as the cult author of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who in 1992 introduced Lalla to his good friend Dawkins, and they married within the year. The joker and the boffin had formed a brilliant Doug & Dick double-act, appearing at sci-fi and no-fi science gatherings where they would robustly debate the merits of technology (Doug) and evolutionary theory (Dick). Not many people know that apart from being a nifty illustrator, embroiderer and knitter, Lalla makes all of hubby’s batik ties which are decorated with zoological imagery. Last night he was wearing one showing a fierce bird of prey diving to the attack.


➤ 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


➤ Rottweiler Dawkins croons his way into our hearts and minds

❚ IT’S NOT RAP AS WE KNOW IT, but here’s the music video of the week — Professor Richard Dawkins crooning his anti-creationist taunts like some born-again Craig David. Also known as “Darwin’s Rottweiler”, Dawkins is one of 10 distinguished thinkers remixed into song to spread enlightenment in A Wave of Reason, a musical compilation of soundbites preaching spiritual fulfilment through scepticism. It’s either shrill or lethal depending on your viewpoint, but does teeter on the brink of characterising the boffins as just as zealous as the believers. In its first three days online this vid has scored 120,340 views! (Click through to YouTube to read the “lyrics” in full. And yes, that is Darwin’s tree of life sprouting at 1:55.)

♫ There is a new wave of reason
Sweeping across America, Britain, Europe, Australia
South America, the Middle East and Africa.
There is a new wave of reason
Where superstition had a firm hold ♫
— Richard Dawkins

This is the seventh instalment in the Symphony of Science music video series, which aims to bring scientific ideas to the public in a novel way, through the medium of music. The mission of John Boswell, its Washington-based producer, is to fight people’s growing and irrational addiction to such pseudosciences as astrology and homeopathy. A sad paradox of the first era to be driven by digital technology is that scientists find it necessary to stand up and actively argue that a scientific worldview is as enlightening as blind faith!

Boswell, an electronic musician, was inspired initially by the American cosmologist Carl Sagan who became a global TV superstar during the 1980s, and the series has grown to embrace many other popularisers such as David Attenborough, in distinctly less strident vein than this week’s effort. In January Attenborough starred in The Unbroken Thread, a beautiful and lyrical tribute to planet Earth. Other eggheads in the series include Brian Cox, Jacob Bronowski, Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, Jane Goodall, Carolyn Porco, Richard Feynman and James Randi, the stage magician and notorious sceptic best known for challenging the “woo-woo” of the paranormal.

➢ Richard Dawkins is an atheist and critic of creationism and so-called “intelligent design”
➢ Join the Brights movement where the worldview is free of supernatural and mystical elements
➢ Dip into The Third Culture at edge.org where the world’s leading scientists, artists and creative thinkers answer a new Big Question every year — in 2010 it was “How is the internet changing the way you think?”