Laureate backs pop science

December 5, 2003

Academics who popularise science on television should be congratulated and not attacked, Nobel laureate John Sulston said last week, writes Anna Fazackerley.

Professor Sulston, who published the first draft sequence of the human genome, was speaking after a debate about genetics with schoolchildren at the Royal Society that featured science celebrity Robert Winston.

He argued that academic snobbery about science communication had lessened considerably, but said television was still an area of contention.

He said: "Robert Winston, Colin Blakemore, Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and Nancy Rothwell all popularise science and they are very successful. But if you go on the box you get criticised."

Professor Rothwell, who presented a children's television programme called Are You Super-human with Gary Linneker, said there was still a fear of dumbing down among scientists.

But Professor Rothwell, a neuroscientist from Manchester University, argued that problems arose only when producers asked scientists to front programmes outside their particular area of expertise.

She added that the glamour of television "can attract people who want money and publicity rather than to communicate science".

Anthony Grayling, reader in philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London, said it was possible to do television engagingly: "You don't have to simplify something to make it clear."

Lord Winston said that he did not make television programmes for his own pleasure. "I have a very focused view that it is necessary and important," he said.

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