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Archive Special: C. P. Snow alive and well at the BBC

This is an update of a post from 2013, which still seems very relevant today: 

I was watching the BBC school soap Waterloo Road* the other day, and ended up rolling all over the floor moaning. Because we saw a 'science teacher' making one of the most basic possible errors. Would they have allowed an English teacher to write on a board that Hamlet was written by T. S. Eliot? Or a geography teacher to note down the capital of France as Belgium? I would hope not. Yet this is a comparable error. Take a look at this little snap.




What is she doing? It seems she has invented a new kind of hydrogen peroxide that is made up of H-squared and O-squared. I have no idea what a squared atom is, and I wait with interest to see the BBC's drama department explaining all about these new particles. At the very least, I would expect a squared atom would enable us to perform cold fusion.

In the meanwhile I just don't understand what kind of editing process at the BBC can allow H2O2 to be written as H2O2. Similarly, in another episode the chlorine molecule, Cl2, was described as C12 (C twelve) – someone had misread the L as a number 1. I can only assume every single person involved in producing this programme didn't even manage to get a science GCSE. And that says something very sad about the whole TV drama world. 

Arguably these are visual reminders of  C. P. Snow's 1959 'two cultures' lecture, where he accused those with a humanities background, who ‘by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated’, of looking down on the illiteracy of scientists, while simultaneously being proud of their scientific ignorance. Snow likened their inability to respond to a question about the Second Law of Thermodynamics as being the scientific equivalent of answering ‘Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?’ in the negative.

Some argue that Snow's viewpoint is now outdated - but a steady stream of examples like the Waterloo Road failure seem to show otherwise.

* Due to be relaunched in 2022

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