Feeds

Boffins turn Bunsen burners on Frank Skinner

Get back to the sofa, 'comedy' boy

Build a business case: developing custom apps

"Science isn’t fun. It’s just maths in fancy dress," wrote TV presenter Frank Skinner in the Times on Friday, and it's earned a gentle rebuke from the Royal Society of Chemistry's chief executive Richard Pike. The RCS caustically calls Skinner a "comedian" only between inverted commas*. But Pike says he may be onto something.

Skinner complained that science is dull, and is appalled that "cute girls with purple hair and boys in skinny jeans" are buying popular science books. Perhaps this is a sign of insecurity, and that talking about anal sex and football is losing its pulling power. After a fairly gentle dig at Stephen Hawking, Skinner wonders:

"We’re in awe of our boffin types, but we take what they tell us on trust because no non-scientist can break through the boredom barrier and check up on the facts themselves."

Richard Pike, President of the Royal Chemistry Society

Richard Pike

Writing on the RSC's blog, Dr Pike wonders if Skinner was "making up jokes, instead of doing the experiments" at school, before admitting science has a perception problem, and more people should be able to follow scientific debates.

It's no wonder you get thicky responses like Skinner's, if education doesn't engage and enlighten:

"[Examination] Markers are instructed to accept scientifically incorrect answers to boost pass rates, and quangos then change grade thresholds if the pass rates are seen to be, politically, too high or low," writes Pike.

"Some other questions on the paper [for 16 year olds] were easier than those that 10 year-olds were doing at primary school fifty years ago."

Alas, Pike skirts around the problems with the single most-publicised science issue of the last 20 years. Environmentalism gave scientists the chance to wear the clothes of policy-makers-in-chief, pre-empting the democratic process, and dictating to our politicians and bureaucrats how the publics should live their lives. This is an exalted role they have quite enjoyed. Who doesn't want to be on the Telly?

Then came the Climategate shenanigans, and, the public could see all was not well. Contrary to what Skinner insists, the internet allows people to weigh up rival explanatory theories. But like Watergate, it isn't the "crimes" but the "cover up" that most dismays the public, and the Royal Societies aren't really helping clean up the mess.

"The science is settled," insists Pike. That's not a phrase fit for any post-Enlightenment age, especially not one in which science is either viewed as boring, or (as with Skinner) a semi-mystical con trick.

It's an interesting exchange. ®

*Bootnote

"Frank Skinner" could also have been dropped between scare quotes, since that's a stage name.

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Brit amateur payload set to complete full circle around PLANET EARTH
Ultralight solar radio tracker in glorious 25,000km almost-space odyssey
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.