Wednesday, 16 March 2011


There has been a big argument on the internet today surrounding comments that Sarah Vine made in The Times about Professor Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe television programme.

To roughly prĂ©cis her argument, Sarah Vine seems to be saying that science should be presented by 'the sort of person who's too brainy to notice that drip-dry brown polyester is no longer in fashion.' She complains that  having a young, sexy presenter  some how diminishes the subject and ' irritates viewers with some knowledge and distracts the rest.'

I and a legion of Prof Cox fans beg to differ. You may remember me blogging a few months ago about how sexy astronomy has become. After the Star Gazing Live series, Amazon sold out of planispheres and telescope sales were up by an extraordinary percentage. This is a measurable indication of how inspired people were by the programmes to get out there and gaze at the skies for themselves. Who knows how many future Nobel prize winners may have been inspired?

Science has never really been my thing. I am an arts girl through and through and only took Physics 'O' level because it seemed the best of a bad bunch. But as I get older, I am more and more interested in all things sciencey. And I'm happy to admit that having someone who is both extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about his subject as well as being easy on the eye has whetted my appetite.

Sarah Vine seems to think that this is a bad thing. A programme that relies on interesting locations and a dramatic soundtrack to support its points is anathema to her. Presumably she has a problem with natural history shows, which have been using these techniques for decades, as well.

What she seems to ignore is that it is precisely because science has always been so stuffy and taught by unappealing men in polyester trousers that the numbers of people studying at University has been on the decline for years. This coupled with the worrying low number of girls that study science after school is surely grounds enough for a major overhaul of how we address science in this country. I, for one, think that anything that gets people taking an interest in science has to be a good thing. If that turns out to be wide angled shots of Prof Cox walking into a sunset with an orchestra booming behind him then so be it. The science remains the same.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this whole discussion is that Sarah Vine is married to Michael Gove, the man in charge of Education in this country. Let us hope that pillow talk in their house does not lead the country back into the scientific dark ages. And in the meantime, may the BBC find other vivacious and interesting scientists to front programmes on chemistry and biology and hopefully kick start a whole new generation of scientists.


Pam said...

I think Cox is a great presenter because he combines enthusiasm for his subject with an ability to explain very complex phenomona.
Is Sarah Vine jealous because Cox is so much more attractive than Michael Gove?

Elizabeth Fricker said...

Im surprised and disappointed by Sarah Vine's comments and my opinion of her has consequently gone down. Let's hope she is not able to influence her husband, Michael Gove, too much!

Imogen said...

Hi Elizabeth. To be honest, I suspect Sarah Vine was looking round for something to be pithy and witty about and just horribly underestimated the popularity of Brian Cox and his style. I bet she hadn't even discussed it with her husband when she penned her thoughts. I bet she has now.

Atelier kleine Freiheit said...

Hello from germany! I fell accidently into your nice blog!
I really love what Brian Cox does, even if I sometimes think "would I really be that interested in all that stuff if he looked like Mr. Einstein...???" But (like you I guess) I am very happy that I found the BBC documentaries which help me to catch up a little with my school-physics.
On the other hand...I believe that man has learned how to sell - himself - and that`s okay for him. Being asked about the style of the upcoming "wonders of life" he said something like "oh yes, there will be lots of shots from me, legs apart on mountainsides"... I hope it will not take too long until the series are available in germany!
Ahoy from the north...

Imogen said...

Hi Meike, thanks for your comments and you're right. Prof Cox has found a niche that works for him so all power to him and if the makes science more accessible for the the rest of us then so much the better!