I quite enjoy a good pop-science documentary. I love science because I love how the world all fits together and does its stuff in such an amazing, clever, jaw-dropping way. I love David Attenborough whispering next to wild Mountain Gorillas or explaining how duck-billed platypuses (platypi? platypodes? whatever!) sense electric currents. I love the literally gasp-aloud wildlife photography produced by the BBC in support of his documentaries. I love serious and not-so-serious attempts to explain quantum to me, or relativity, or the Big Bang. I love Stephen Jay Gould writing about evolution, or Dara O’Briain enthusing over mathematics and astronomy.
I admit it. My name is EBL and I love Stargazing Live.
Stargazing Live is one of the craziest notions for a TV show I have ever come across. It involves getting people to be excited about maths and physics, live on air, using technology that goes wrong all the time, to demonstrate brain-boggling facts, figures and concepts, while trying to look at stars in Britain, still live on air, regardless of the weather. It is invariably cloudy. And then doing it all over again for two more nights, usually prefacing the start of the next programme with “well, it finally cleared up beautifully in North Lanarkshire at 3 am so you could catch the tail end of the Pleiades shower”. Actually I love Stargazing Live and I love the BBC for producing it.
The main host is Brian Cox, with Dara supporting him because Brian needs someone who can (a) think on his feet in front of a camera, (b) knows how to present live and without a safety net, and (c) has the “common touch”. Brian Cox sets pulses racing with his combination of good looks, northern accent and boyish charm, allegedly. This all works very well when scripted and set to dramatic orchestration but he is less agile in a live environment and only really comfortable talking to other scientists – when his good qualities do really shine out across the universe. Dara, on the other hand, can put everyone at ease, be funny but also incredibly knowledgeable, and is keen as mustard in a less academic way. Both of them just fizz with enthusiasm. It is wonderful.
Brian’s rather annoying habit, from my point of view, is to refer to anything that is not hard science as “woo-woo”. He flutters his hands and speaks in a silly voice, as if this makes it acceptable. While I am all for having rational debate about the proven scientific theory supporting new discoveries, and while I am not a fan of a number of notions masquerading as science, such as homeopathy and creationism, I take some displeasure in a blanket dismissal of a spiritual interpretation of certain phenomena as if they cannot exist alongside hard science. It’s like saying you can only read the Encyclopedia Britannica and not John Donne, because the latter is speculative and speaks about men as if they were geography which is obviously untrue. Ironically both sources agree that no man is an island…
I admit I would use the EncBrit for some things and Donne for others. The key is knowing which is which. I would be happier of Brian widened his repertoire a little and didn’t take quite such a binary approach.
None of the above will ultimately stop me from watching the world’s most peculiar concept show whenever it is broadcast, taking me to the final frontier. It’s quirky, informative and sufficiently annoying to get me completely hooked.