Dumbing down?

Last night, the second episode of Professor Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe was shown on BBC2. I am loving this series so far; and I really enjoyed its predecessor, Wonders of the Solar System.

Last night’s episode tied in perfectly with what I’m studying at the moment as part of S104 – Exploring Science. I’m looking at the composition of stars, how they work, how they are born, live and die. The show did a great job of illustrating and supplementing what I’ve been learning.

Supernova (thanks to Wired)

I am the type of person who finds it very difficult to grasp difficult ideas quickly. I can’t just read about a concept and understand it; I’m quite envious of those who can do that. So I look for all sorts of different ways to learn about a topic – and if there are pictures, diagrams and analogies, so much the better.

This series is not aimed at those who already know all there is to know about the universe; it’s aimed at people who don’t know much at all, or at those of us who devour everything they can about the subject, whether it’s simple or not.

There is plenty of other information out there on science, but much of it is not easily accessible to the masses – and some of it is a bit dated. Science is constantly evolving. We are always learning new things, constantly revising what we know and what we think we know.

Some people will say Wonders of the Universe is science-lite; dumbing down for the masses. I disagree. Simplified doesn’t necessarily mean wrong, and it certainly isn’t a bad thing. My OU course simplifies things all the time. So do scientists. I think Prof Cox is very good indeed at taking a really complicated idea and presenting it in such a way that those who have never studied science or astronomy can grasp it. His enthusiasm is a joy to see.

I can quite understand how some people would find him irritating; he’s a bit of an acquired taste, and he can be a little odd. But I like him, and I like the way he presents his subject with simplicity and enthusiasm – although, as a friend has pointed out, the series is a little like the great Michael Palin’s travel diaries in places… But who wouldn’t take that job if it were offered to them?

Accusations of being terribly trendy have been levelled at him and his fans – but is that such a bad thing? If jumping on a bandwagon gets people interested in science, surely that can only be a good thing. It’s a sad fact that many people are more interested in celebrity nonsense than in things that actually matter – so if Prof Cox is using his popularity and “trendiness” to get people to watch and learn: good for him!

Most people will get no further than this TV series – but a few will fall in love with science and knowledge because of it, and will go further, read more, perhaps even take up some science study. That’s priceless.


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