Thursday, 22 July 2010

Science is good news

As an author of popular science books I'm inevitably a tad biased on the subject of science. I think scientific discoveries are thrilling. I still have that child-like sense of wonder that so many, so sadly seem to lose in their teens. Sometimes 'awe' is a good word for the feelings I get when I come across a new, good bit of science. But last night, watching the news, I was struck by another benefit of science that isn't often mentioned.

Channel Four News (the best TV news in the UK, as far as I'm concerned - certainly the most grown-up and the least dumbed down, unless they give their graphics person a bit of free reign) was full of the usual misery and despair. People killed. The US indulging in Brit bashing, suggesting somehow the British government was responsible for the release of the Lockerbie bomber (even though it was a totally independent decision by the Scottish Executive, but thanks to Braveheart, the Scots come next to the Irish in US romantic mythology, so it can't be their fault). The Ministry of Defence trying to weasel out of cost cuts. Conservative MP to be investigated for his election costs. Banks behaving badly. More financial misery...

And then we had a story about the discovery of the biggest star yet to be detected. And it lit the programme up. As we heard about R136a1, how it was 50 times the diameter and 300 times the mass of the Sun, as we watched the Very Large Telescope array in Chile do a little dance, suddenly there was some good news. A brief moment of happiness in an otherwise miserable bulletin. Even if you don't care that much about advancing knowledge, we need a regular burst of science to keep our chins up. We should demand at least one good science story in every news bulletin. Just so we know there really is something worth living for.

Image from Wikipedia


  1. love the video. love the sentiment. thanks!

  2. Alas the video no longer seems to be available. May be it will come back...

  3. It seems a bit variable, but as long as you go to it is usually there. If the address is subtly different (e.g. with "comments" in it) the video doesn't appear.

  4. I agree it's nice to have a good science stories, but I am irritated that they are so often relegated to gosh-wow stories at the ends of bulletins. The point of the star story wasn't that it was huge, but how it came to be like that, given that stars that big aren't meant to exist. You really had to dig around to find that out.