Academics scorn TV lecture move

February 4, 2005

Scientists responded with disdain this week as the Royal Institution confirmed that its flagship Christmas Lectures would be screened on Five - the television channel made famous by its staple diet of football and soft porn.

The Times Higher revealed doubts about the future of the science lectures for children - which have been running since 1825 - in March last year, when Channel 4 confirmed it was unlikely to renew its contract with the institution.

Despite hopes that the lectures would return to the BBC, which unexpectedly lost its contract with the institution four years ago, the RI said this week that it was "delighted" to have signed a three-year peak-time contract to screen the lectures on Five.

Dawn Airey, Five's former chief executive, described its core remit as "films, football and fucking". But it has tried to become more upmarket, with a focus on current affairs, arts and science.

But leading scientists are sceptical about the RI's decision, warning of a potential fall in standards and audience numbers.

One former Christmas lecturer said: "It is very sad to see the decline in the status and influence of this once great British educational tradition."

Malcolm Longair, who presented the lectures on the origins of the universe in 1990, said: "It is a great sadness if the lectures cannot go out on the main channels. One of the great reasons for their existence is to reach a large audience of young people."

He warned Five: "You don't have to dumb down to make things interesting."

Simon Conway Morris, professor in the earth sciences department at Cambridge University, said: "One regrets the erosion of something so traditional."

But Baroness Susan Greenfield, the institution's director, said: "Five shares my passion to exploit the unique nature of the lectures and their intellectually challenging scientific experimental style."

Peter Grimsdale, Five's acting controller of science, said: "This deal consolidates our growing commitment to science."

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