Please step away from the pencil

For a couple of days now some of the quotes in this article have been bothering me. First, I'll admit, until a couple of days ago I didn't have the first clue who Myleene Klass was. By coincidence, she'd turned up on an "celebrity" edition of Mastermind — I'd missed the first ½ of the programme so didn't catch what her subject was (I think she got the highest score for that section) but seem to recall that she managed to score 1 point in the general knowledge round.

Having seen that and wondering who she was I then happened to read Move Over Sir Patrick and ended up being a little wiser.

Anyway, to the quotes that bothered me. The one that really stood out was:

"If I did a space show I wouldn't want you to feel you had to run and grab a pen and pad to look up all the references later on"
Why? What's so wrong with the idea of not being a passive consumer? Why the suggestion that learning is only fun if you don't do a little work yourself? In recent years, especially on the BBC, there seems to have been this trend towards entertainment over education (ask any long-time Horizon fan).

Another one, which I'm still trying to get my head round, is:
"I love the lighter side of astronomy - heavenly bodies, fly me to the moon. It doesn't always have to be heavy. Things like Doctor Who and the Daleks grab the kids."
Can anyone make sense of that? Yes, Doctor Who is a fantastic programme, but what the hell does it have to do with astronomy, even the "lighter side"? Well, okay, I laughed out loud at Stuart's article about Guinevere One too, but, really...

I know it's not going to happen, I know I'm just ranting for the hell of it, but this sort of glorification of dumbing down annoys the hell out of me.

Dumb down The Sky At Night? That gets me feeling all "over my dead body".

Where's Simon Singh when you need him?

File Under: Sky at Night, Patrick Moore, Myleene Klass, Dumbing Down.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, well having seen the first Royal Institution Christmas Lecture (on C5, with advert breaks, with website address popping up every 10mins, with rowdy bunch of yobs from the local school who were, to put it nicely, interested in a performance rather than learning anything) and having found it rather off-putting, I can symptathize entirely with not dumbing-down "science" programmes.
It's parents' job to give their offspring a rounded experience of all on telly including both Dr Who and astronomy, not the presenter(')s(') job to mash both into one show so they lose a sense of where reality starts & stops.

Dave Pearson said...

To be fair, the first audience (those for the rest of the week were a lot less, err, excitable) and the adverts and stuff aside (it was on a commercial station after all), I rather enjoyed this (oops, last) year's RICL. Partly because I actually remembered that it was on, but mostly because I thought it was well presented and contained some really neat stuff.

Given that it was on C5 it was a lot better than I expected.

Paul Sutherland said...

As the cynical old hack who wrote the original piece, and speaking entirely objectively ;-) I have to say that the charming, beautiful, erudite, intelligent, warm and talented Ms Klass was a joy to interview when I spent an hour with her recently.
I had to cut her quotes down quite a lot, of course, for my article which appeared as a TV page lead in The Sun this week. Dr Who is not astronomy but the point she was making was that it grabs the kids and so can be a way to draw them into science.
I understood her remark about not having to grab a pen as meaning that a show about astronomy doesn't have to be like a lecture where you must take notes. Lots of people are put off science because they think it is all formulae and equations for eggheads and too compex for ordinary folk. The result is that they miss the sheer excitement of science. Is it so wrong to remove barriers like that?
Of couse there is nothing to say that one may not take notes - it is a bit like a meeting of an astronomical society. There are always some who do and some who don't.
By the way, I watched Mastermind too. Myleene did amazingly in her first round, only getting her final question wrong. But she went to pieces in the second round. It is not that she isn't bright - she got five, grade-A, A-levels as I recall. I think she got flustered and nerves got the better of her.


Dave Pearson said...

I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with removing barriers, I'm just fed up with the constant suggestion that the only solution to the problem of people being put off by "science" is to turn it into pure entertainment.

If the problem really is that people are "put off science because they think it is all formulae and equations for eggheads and too complex for ordinary folk" it strikes me that the most obvious solution is to point out that people who do science are ordinary folk. It strikes me that adding a "celebrity culture" to educational programmes will only make that worse, not better, because it's important to the popular media that the people they write about are somehow different or apart from us "ordinary folk".

The currency shouldn't be the person and how charming, beautiful, erudite, intelligent, warm or talented they are — the currency should be the subject in question.

I suppose, in some sense, my beef was with the article more than the subject of the article. As I said, I don't really have a clue who this person is and what their knowledge and abilities are (that's sort of beside my point). But, when the time comes that someone needs to full Sir Patrick's shoes (and let's hope someone does, I suspect the BBC would prefer to just close the show down), I hope that they are chosen for their knowledge and enthusiasm for astronomy, not because they are "charming" or "beautiful". Perhaps this individual has the knowledge and enthusiasm, the article didn't really give that impression.

Anonymous said...

Dave, I hope my Guinevere One story wasn't dumbing down too much ;-)

I agree that astronomy programmes shouldn't be like university lectures; they are not about taking extensive notes. However, having pointers to further information is important for those that are interested. Sure it doesn't always have to be heavy, but it shouldn't always be light either.

From what I have heard, The Sky At Night will stop when Patrick Moore stops presenting. The justification was that nobody could live up to his legacy (mind you, Chris Lintott is doing a good job as a supporting presenter). If that was to happen, we will then be left with the only the occasional episode of 'StarDate'.

Dave Pearson said...

That's pretty spot on Stuart. On the one hand you don't want a programme to be too heavy that almost no one can follow it, but you also don't want it to be so light that it's hardly worth watching if you've got anything close to an interest or a knowledge in the subject (at least one Stardate had the feel of the latter to me).

As for the future of The Sky at Night — it's a real shame to read that sort of thing. I can't help but think that it's simply a pathetic excuse that's being used to get rid of another minority programme. Sure, Sir Patrick is a very particular kind of character and, sure, he's a hard act to follow. But the format and the content can carry on with someone else.

Still, you never know, the BBC did finally bring back Dr. Who...

Anonymous said...

The reason that The Sky At Night has lasted so long is that it allowed itself to be pushed around the schedule filling any spare slot. Although this has been annoying to viewers it is that flexibility that has kept it from being axed or 'lightened'. Just think of what happened to Tomorrow's World.

I must admit that I rarely watch Horizon these days as it always seems to have ominous music and an overly dramatic sounding voice over to make it sound 'more exciting'. Hey, before I turn into a grumpy old man I should add that I really enjoy Rough Science.

Dave Pearson said...

Yeah, I'd not thought about it like that but, now you mention it, it makes an awful lot of sense.

And, yes, I really enjoy Rough Science too.

All that said, you say "grumpy old man" like it's a bad thing. Not sure I get that.... ;-)