by Matthew Cobb
Here’s something to whet the appetite of UK readers and to make those elsewhere pester their TV providers. It’s the trailer for Wonders of Life, the new series by University of Manchester particle physicist Professor Brian Cox:
The series consists of five episodes, will begin broadcasting on BBC2 on 29 January, and continues two earlier and highly successful series, Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe. As Cox is a particle physicist, he is especially interested in the physical underpinnings of life and evolution, and the physical constraints within which evolution operates.
The series has its usual beautiful USP – Brian wandering around the world pointing at things. Seriously, the series is stunning and very different from traditional BBC natural history programmes. (I should point out that I would say that, wouldn’t I, for I was a scientific advisor on the series, along with Nick Lane from UCL. However, any errors are Brian’s!)
The song – I imagine many WEIT readers will recognise it instantly, is a new, specially-written evolutionary version of the “Galaxy Song” by Eric Idle, from the Monty Python film The Meaning of Life.
Brian is a very popular TV science presenter in the UK, and is regularly spoofed for his enthusiasm and his Oldham accent. Here are a couple of spoofs:
Jerry’s update: Over at the New Statesman, Cox and Robin Ince (Cox’s co-host of “The Infinite Monkey Cage,” discuss the profoundly antiscientific nature of climate change denial, and along the way explain the nature of science. The piece is a bit turgid and preachy, but includes a wonderful quote from Feynman that I hadn’t heard:
The key to science is in this simple statement from the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Richard Feynman, who once remarked: “It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”
The assertion is surely uncontroversial, but implementing it can be prohibitively difficult, primarily because it demands that everything be subordinate to evidence. Accepting this is fraught with cultural difficulty, because authority in general rests with grandees, gods, or more usually some inseparable combination of the two. Even in a secular democracy, a fundamental tenet of the system is that politicians are elected to reflect and act upon the opinions of the people, or are at least given temporary authority by the people to act upon their own. Science is a framework with only one absolute: all opinions, theories and “laws” are open to revision in the face of evidence. It should not be seen or presented, therefore, as a body of inviolate knowledge against which policy should be judged; the effect of this would be to replace one priesthood with another. Rather, science is a process, a series of structures that allow us, in as unbiased a way as possible, to test our assertions against Nature.