Nice BBC show on science communication; Dawkins and Deborah Kelemen talk about evolution

I’m just going to steal reader Colin’s email, which called my attention to a 42-minute BBC4 program featuring several people, although, as usual, Richard Dawkins gets top billing (see screenshot below). I’ve just listened to the show and recommend it. Here’s what Colin wrote me:

The program is now be available here. It discusses with Richard Dawkins a new book by child psychologist Deborah Kelemen, which introduces the concept of evolution to children through fictional creatures called piloses.  Her book, How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses, has a one line review from Steven Pinker on Amazon.

Richard Dawkins’ piece starts at around 17 minutes, and touches initially on a subject close to your heart, airline security checks, while discussing his latest collection of essays.  The subject of creationism comes up at 25 minutes.  Deborah’s book follows on about a minute later.

If you can spare half an hour, I think you may find it interesting.

Click on the screenshot to go to the program (press the arrow when you get to the site to hear it). Here’s the summary if you want a preview:

On Start the Week Andrew Marr asks whether scientists have failed in their task to communicate their work to the wider public. The ‘passionate rationalist’ Richard Dawkins has spent his career trying to illuminate the wonders of nature and challenge what he calls faulty logic. But he wonders whether Darwin would consider his legacy now with ‘a mixture of exhilaration and exasperation’. The child psychologist Deborah Kelemen has been working with young children to find out what they make of adaptation and evolution with the storybook, How the Piloses Evolved Skinny Noses, and is encouraged by the sophistication of their understanding. The mathematician Cathy O’Neil says it’s time people became more aware of the mathematical models and algorithms that dominate everything we do online and in finance, and yet are increasingly opaque, unregulated and left unchallenged. While Alex Bellos looks to improve numeracy with puzzles and brainteasers which have been entertaining and frustrating people for centuries.

Some highlights for me:

12:21: The famous “wolf, goat, and cabbage” puzzle, which is cool. Do you know the answer? I couldn’t figure it out in a few minutes of thinking, but I think I could if I had a pencil and paper.

16:23: The Dawkins bit begins with a question about the importance of mathematics in evolutionary biology (Dawkins points out, as I often do, that Darwin didn’t know much math and there are no equations in On the Origin of Species. He goes on to talk about the title of The Selfish Gene, rules, airline security (Woody Allen fans will find that Richard gets Allen’s quote on immortality wrong).

22:03: The discussion of science education begins; Richard decries the ubiquitous tendency to make science “fun”. Others chime in.

24:30: Discussion of creationism in American education.

25:10: Kelemen discusses misunderstandings of Darwinism and how her book overcomes them. (Dawkins chimes in that he likes the book, but says that it’s missing a crucial bit of information.) The discussion of how to teach science to kids goes on until the program almost ends.

39:55: The end: Richard pronounces on whether, in the future, the scientific mindset can overcome the hegemony of religion.

Richard also plugs his new book of essays (some new) called Science in the Soul: Selective Writings of a Passionate Rationalist. I’ve read it and think that overall it’s very good. It’s a Professor Ceiling Cat Recommendation™.

I haven’t read this one, but it might be good for kids. Have any readers seen it:


  1. Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to hear Dawkins suddenly talking about spirituality and the soul. I think it’s good — those words have been hijacked (as he said) by the supernaturalists and literalists.

    I also agree with his observation (/criticism) the piloses book only deals with a minor change within a species, which even creationists occasionally allow. No doubt a good starting point, but needs follow up.

    Why not build a story around a real life example? How about whale evolution, or dinosaurs evolving into birds.

  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    What might be a mental block on the wolf, goat, cabbage puzzle is failure to realize it is OK to have just the wolf and goat on one end of the river as long as the cat is also present, and they are not left alone.

    The key is that it is safe to leave the wolf and cabbage together.

    There are other river crossing problems much more daunting than this one, actually.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      I first learned of this puzzle using a Fox, a Chicken and a bowl of grain. Same idea, just different characters.

      • Larry Smith
        Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, me too, only it was a Republican, a Democrat, and the Constitution.

      • friendlypig
        Posted July 4, 2017 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        Sorry, when I first read your post I thought it said: a Fox, a Christian and a bowl of rice.

        My thoughts were that the fox would starve to death whilst the Christian tried to convert it.

  3. Merilee
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 2:56 pm | Permalink


  4. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    The first move is forced; the second one is arbitrary; the third one is forced; the fourth one is forced; the last one is forced. (Where forced includes not immediately undoing the move you just made).

  5. trou
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    It is silly to think that science has to be fun in order to be accepted.
    Religion isn’t fun. Not at all. Is it fun to think about Jesus coming back with a sword to judge everyone and cast the bad ones in a lake of fire?
    What is fun about a global flood that kills all of mankind. How about jezabel getting torn apart by dogs and being eaten.
    Then the begats and the boring laws. I think the bible is a very boring book. Nobody seems to care because they don’t intend to read it anyway. They are content to let others dig out the cherry picked bits that seem to please.
    Science is interesting to the curious mind but for those who prefer to let others think for them, they would not be interested no matter how it was presented.
    Religion and its handmaiden authoritarianism is the problem, not science.

    • nicky
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      A Boring Book indeed, despite it containing quite a bit of ‘snuff porn’.

    • peepuk
      Posted July 5, 2017 at 1:27 am | Permalink

      I think you just listed some of the fun- parts of the bible.

      Most of it is just boring.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Richard’s voice has improved immensely in 17 months since his mini-stroke. Last year it was all over the place, though maybe that was a cold or tiredness some of the times I heard him.

    The MC of the program, Andrew Marr, wasn’t so fortunate – paralysed in left arm & left leg. A 2013 stroke.

    Good to see them both back into the business of life unbent by fate.

  7. Posted July 3, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Minor nitpick: It’s BBC Radio 4 not BBC 4. If you drop anything – because you rightly think “bee bee sea radio four” is a bit of a mouthful – you should drop the “BBC” bit.

    The distinction is important because BBC 4 is a digital only TV channel whereas Radio 4 is the BBC’s main national spoken word radio channel and is the greatest single broadcast channel on any medium anywhere (in my opinion).

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 3, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      You are of course correct! Plus it’s blissfully free from ads, jingles & traffic reports.

      I think R4 does need to bring in fresh, young talent here & there plus put a rocket under “call you & yours”, “In touch” & the afternoon 45-minute drama – all three progs [plus a few other old standbys] are coasting along to formula.

      I would also junk The Archers… absolute tosh 🙂

  8. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted July 3, 2017 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    The fox, goose and grain problem is a version of The Towers of Hanoi puzzle. What is actually going on is a binary math demonstration. For every extra tower level added, the number of moves doubles.


  9. Colin McLachlan
    Posted July 4, 2017 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    Glad you enjoyed the programme, Jerry. It was sheer luck that I caught it myself. I agree with Richard that the book needs to be the first in a series, but I think that that is what’s intended.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 4, 2017 at 3:35 am | Permalink


      Yes, it is what’s intended, “Evolving Minds: Children’s Learning of Natural Selection” book 2 is out Jan 1st, 2018

      *How the Dormits Evolved Long Backs*

      Somewhere in my brain is shouting there’s 7 or 8 books in the series, but I don’t recall where I picked that info up – could be my imagination – brain is frying apace as the years tick 🙂

      • Colin McLachlan
        Posted July 4, 2017 at 4:06 am | Permalink

        You saw I finally got my dolphin video up!

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted July 4, 2017 at 4:14 am | Permalink

          No, Mr. Haggis 🙂

          Is it ‘parked’ for publishing later today? My WEIT feed is showing the cold Russian Moggie as the most recent post still

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted July 4, 2017 at 5:02 am | Permalink

          Oh yes I’ve seen that, but it needs its own post IMO! Plus I’m not sure PCC has seen it – the whyevolutionistrue comment in that thread is by MC not PCC

          P.S. I meant to say before the Olivia ‘wee castle’ video series is very cute & I hope she’ll retain a memory of that day [I go back to just before 3yo, but my sis is blank in the head prior to 5.5yo – strange how it varies so much]

  10. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 6, 2017 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    At long last – my copy of “Piloses” has arrived, just read it, and I think it’s good – it starts to fill the large void in the evolution section along side Grandmother Fish. It starts off nebulous but as soon as you see where the piloses’ food lives, it all becomes clear. It’s just cute enough but not cuter – I’m not sure how this will go over with certain age groups… the death thing comes up, and the writing just skins through it but again, not sure how that will go over – perhaps if the piloses were cuter, it’d be a real problem… then again, “I Wonder” helps to understand life cycles…

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