Credo: Professor Alice Roberts

‘Am I the new David Attenborough? Those shoes will never be filled’

David Attenborough opened my eyes to the natural world For anyone of my generation, he has been such an influential figure in terms of education. So I'm glad David is still working and showing such enthusiasm and compassion. Am I the new David Attenborough? I'm shocked to be compared – no one could aim to replace someone who's such a phenomenon; those shoes will never be filled!

Working on human remains is an exciting challenge When I started on my PhD [in paleopathology], I was surprised how much you could tell about ancient disease by looking for clues in human remains. So initially I was like, gosh, are we actually going to make any diagnosis? But you piece together what you see – like a massive jigsaw.

Science is about that childlike sense of wonder We all have it, yet some people say to me that when they were being taught science at school it destroyed that somehow. So we need to cherish good science teachers who tap into that sense of wonder.

Apes play with your mind There's a sense of weird familiarity you get when you're up close with a chimpanzee [as Roberts was when filming the TV series Origins of Us]. It's very different to looking into a dog's or cat's eyes, as there's almost a sense of recognition between you. But even though they are our closest living relatives, you need to recognise them as wild animals and treat them with the utmost respect. What's desperately sad, though, is that we're wiping them out.

It's unusual for primates to walk on two legs But by doing so ourselves, our hips and knees wear out. And in a modern society of increasing obesity that's going to exacerbate those stresses even more.

Relations between science and politics need to improve I'd like to see [politicians] listening before they start to create policy rather than using science to back policies already created, for social or political reasons. A prime example was the dreadful "Nutt sack affair" as [the science writer] Ben Goldacre called it [the Government scientist David Nutt was fired from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 2009 for disagreeing with the Government's drug policy], where the Government wanted him to endorse their policies, but if he had done, he would have sold out; scientists need to retain independence.

It's amazing what puppeteers can do At the Walking with Dinosaurs live show it's utterly amazing to see what looks like real dinosaurs prowling around an arena, from a massive brachiosaurus to flying dinosaurs – even as a scientist who's looked at fossils and knew this stuff existed, it feels special.

Professor Alice Roberts, 39, is a paleopathologist, anatomist and TV presenter. She is the spokesperson for 'Walking with Dinosaurs: The Arena Spectacular', which embarks on a UK tour starting at the O2 Arena, London on 26 December (dinosaurlive.com/uk)

Comments