Adam Hart-Davis: Why is there so little science on television?

From a speech by the writer and broadcaster at the launch of his new book 'Talking Science', given in Oxford

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I recently had the privilege of interviewing 14 top scientists and a fascinating picture emerged. What they really care about is finding out how the world works, and uncovering the secrets of nature. Yes, they wanted to save the rainforest, im- prove health care, or investigate the depths of the oceans and the universe, but in the end they were searching for the truth about life, the universe, and everything, including how we tick.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing 14 top scientists and a fascinating picture emerged. What they really care about is finding out how the world works, and uncovering the secrets of nature. Yes, they wanted to save the rainforest, im- prove health care, or investigate the depths of the oceans and the universe, but in the end they were searching for the truth about life, the universe, and everything, including how we tick.

I wish the general public could share some of the excitement and fascination of science, but sadly the media moguls seem to be against it. Science crops up most often in the news, and often only because of a scare - about vaccination, bird flu, or cloning claims. Television bosses seem to have decided that science is boring and difficult, and not worth putting on the screen.

When I joined Yorkshire Television in 1977 we produced both science documentaries and Don't Ask Me, a studio show with Magnus Pyke, David Bellamy, and Miriam Stoppard. For a dozen years, however, there has been no science on ITV. The BBC, which for decades must have been the best science broadcaster in the world, has axed the major strands QED, Antenna, and Tomorrow's World. Meanwhile Horizon has become a pale shadow of its former self, and when I ask scientists whether they watch it, they generally say "I used to, but not any more. It's changed".

The world is faced with an increasing barrage of scientific questions and opportunities - What should we do about global warming? Is genetically modified food dangerous, or a vital step forward? Are vaccinations safe? There should be public debate on these issues. People want to get involved, to know what the issues really are - and yet there is far too little information on television.

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