The Naked Scientists have been part of my life for at least half a decade. Out of all podcasts on iTunes, the Naked Scientists has had better staying power than comedies, language lessons, movie reviews, and other science podcasts. I always go back to it.It isn’t just me who has noticed this weekly one hour podcast that is also a radio show on BBC. The Naked Scientists have won seven national and international awards since 2006. I will never forget when host Dr Chris Smith told me how monthly downloads of the podcast exceeds 6TB, (though now it’s 15TB), when he visited Australia a couple of years ago.
Given all this, it makes absolutely no sense to me that BBC East radio will cease broadcasting from January of the Naked Scientists in favour of country music and local content.
Mr Mick Rawsthorne, the person for local and regional programs for BBC East and the person who decides the fate of the Naked Scientists, thinks that the science program is of little value in Cambridgeshire despite by his own admission in a BBC 4 Feedback segment “is a very good programme”. Mr Rawsthorne also believes that science should only make it to radio in the form of news reports on local events and development.
While I agree that science should make it on air during the news, I do not believe that there is no air time for a science segment. In Australia, there are regular science radio segments on air. The Science Show and Doctor Karl on Triple J are two recognisable national science radio segments. This isn’t including local ABC, (BBC equivalent in Australia) radio with their own science segments. Some stations have a science segment in the morning and another one in the afternoon. I can’t imagine that Australians have a higher interest in science than their counterparts in the UK. I think people are interested in science when it is accessible to them. The Naked Scientists invites people to get involved with them to explore science.
The Naked Scientists secondary title is Stripping Down the Science and this is what they do in one hour. They take recently published peer review research, (often from scientists in the UK), and talk about it in plain English. More importantly, they make it interesting to listen to all while inviting listeners to comment on the research or ask their own science related questions. If that wasn’t enough the team at the Naked Scientists were busting myths before Mythbusters exploded successfully on television. My favourite is the chocolate teapot.
If that wasn’t enough for an hour, they even conduct live science experiments that listeners can take part in over the course of an hour. This has led to a collection of them published in a book, Crisp Packet Fireworks. It may also lead to a declaration that a there should be a microwave dedicated for science projects only but this may only be in my household on the opposite side of the planet to the Naked Scientists.
I suppose I can only talk about the Naked Scientists from an international perspective which may not be the focus of the BBC at a time when it is embroiled in a sex scandal and when budget cuts are being made. I am not arguing that the international audience be more important than the local audience. However, is this not a case where homegrown talent has become influential? Shouldn’t this be fostered especially when there appears to be nothing else in the arsenal that comes close to this? I am someone in Australia who regularly listens to a podcast that is very British. Hell, some weeks I listen to the livestream and even get a traffic update for a place on the other side of the world.
Chris isn’t going down without a fight. There is an ongoing discussion on Twitter that can be followed with the hashtag, #savethenakedscientists that is an expression of frustration and disbelief especially at the rumour that the Naked Scientists will be replaced with country music, (reportedly American country music). The Naked Scientists Facebook page has transformed into a war room with the latest updates on the progress and what listeners can do. And slowly, blog posts are appearing expressing disappointment in the decision.
If you want to tell the BBC or Mr Rick Rawsthorne how awesome the Naked Scientists is, the emails are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively.
I cannot believe that the BBC who has been responsible for producing science content that has played an enormous role in my science education is allowing the removal of a radio science programme. Science news stories based on current events is one part of science. The other part is that science is fascinating and full of wonder. Okay sure, there’s facts but there’s facts in other specialist areas like sports, gardening, pet care, history and so on. These are areas that make it onto radio and television regularly when they are inviting and understandable. Science is being presented in this manner by the Naked Scientists.
Disclosure: I have met Dr Chris Smith when he visited Perth as part of National Science Week in 2010. Even if I had not met him, I would have written this blog post anyway.