Thursday, September 11, 2008

Positive science ... jokes ... Stephen Hawking ... Taekwondo

I don't normally listen to the Today programme on Radio 4. But their coverage of the Large Hadron Collider switch-on at CERN was too promising to miss.

I pulled into the work car park on Wednesday morning about 8.24, just as the half eight news had been brought forward. The sports announcer couldn't help himself from cracking an "if they lose it won't be the end of the world" joke, and then John Humphrys managed to squeeze another one in before handing over to Andrew Marr in the CERN control room. And so I stayed sitting in the car for the next ten minutes listening to events unfold.

It's not too often that a positive science makes it to the top of the news agenda. Health scares and environmental issues normally squeeze out physics. The previous day's interview with Stephen Hawking stood out amongst the other coverage. A scientist with the ability to convey his passion for discovery and investigation, with an ability to communicate complexity in simple language ...

"The most exciting result would be something we don’t expect."

... as well as ironing out a lot of the misunderstandings about black holes.

Having gone through all the gags on the previous day - and with the popular press joining in big time - it's a pity that someone didn't ban the "end of the world" jokes on the morning of the switch on. But the opportunity to celebrate and convey the vision, passion and scientific endeavour behind perhaps the biggest science of the year was overshadowed. Instead, a lot of people will instead remember that the world didn't end, people's hair didn't stand up on end (HT to redmum), and that some thing in an underground bunker didn't turn Geneva into a mushroom cloud.

Amidst the false starts and confusion from Andrew Marr's live commentary, Evan Davis maybe rescued the Radio 4 Today coverage when afterwards he simply stated:

"It's like Olympic Taekwondo. Not everybody understands what's going on, it's not always easy to commentate on, but it's very exciting all the same."

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