With Horizon, the BBC abandons science

creepy

BBC TV’s venerable science flagship, Horizon, has had a rough ride as it tries to gain a new audience. It’s been accused of “dumbing down”. That’s nothing new – it’s a criticism often leveled at it during its 42 year life.

But instead of re-examing its approach, the series’ producers have taken the bold step of abandoning science altogether. This week’s film, “Human v2.0”, could have been made for the Bravo Channel by the Church of Scientology. The subject at hand – augmenting the brain with machinery – was potentially promising, and the underlying question – “what makes a human?” – is as fascinating as ever. Nor is the field short of distinguished scientists, such as Roger Penrose, or philosophers, such as Mary Midgley, who’ve made strong contributions.

Yet Horizon unearthed four cranks who believed that thanks to computers, mankind was on the verge of transcending the physical altogether, and creating “God” like machines.

“To those in the know,” intoned the narrator, “this moment has a name.” (We warned you it was cult-like, but it gets worse).

It’s not hard to find cranks – the BBC could just as readily have found advocates of the view that the earth rests on a ring of turtles – and in science, yesterday’s heresy often becomes today’s orthodoxy. But it gets there through a well-established rigorous process – not through unsupported assertions, confusions, and errors a five-year old could unpick.
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The Canonization of St.Bill

St Bill of Shephards Bush

If William Henry Gates the Third’s philanthropic work leads to him being canonized one day as the first secular saint of our times, I won’t stand in the way of the celebrations. Geeks get things very out of proportion, and the value of saving even one life should be more apparent to everyone than the cost of a poorly written Windows USB stack. When Microsoft is criticized, while the practices of arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies and extraction cartels around the world are ignored, its reminds us that some nerds place a very low value on human life itself.

But if Gates is to be canonized as the man who invented the PC, and without whom our lives would be poorer – as he is this evening – then we should all be troubled, as it suggests we’re suffering from a terrible case of ignorance and amnesia. More troublingly, it raises the fair question – which we hope you can help answer – of what kind of qualifications one needs to have to earn the title ‘Henry Ford Of Our Times’.

Tonight the BBC discussed Bill’s legacy, and was effectively writing the first draft of his place in history. And in that painful BBC fashion of splitting the difference and losing the truth – there are two, but never more than two sides to every story – came to its conclusion. Bill Gates had been truly innovative in his earlier career, we learned, and while “someone would have invented the PC eventually” (we paraphrase), this incredible inventiveness could still be entered in mitigation when the final reckoning came.

So, Bill invented the PC? Even excusing for media hyperbole – and this is the kind of careless, but generous exaggeration you hear when someone has died (rather than relinquished the role of “Chief Software Architect”) we would like to put a few points on the record.
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BBC seeks 'Digital Assassins'

What if they held a digital media revolution – and nobody came?

The BBC is having trouble finding citizens to attend a conference devoted to the exciting new world of Citizens Media.

It’s a Beeb-sponsored day about the “democratization of the media”, but despite a 50 quid bribe to attend – that’s more than you get for appearing on Newsnight or Radio 4’s Today program, and the kind of practice we thought had been outlawed in the 1832 Reform Act – no one seems to be interested.

Which has led to some frantic last-minute emails from BBC Innovation.

We’re not quite sure what kind of citizen the BBC wants to attend. But the weird, trying-too-hard title – “Digital Assassins”, and this this delicious questionnaire given to early responders may give you some idea.

Questionnaire for Digital Assassins

Senior media executives, journalists and managers will be getting together on May 3rd at a conference devoted to the democratisation of media. One of the key sessions of each day will be called “Digital Assassins”

The session aims to investigate the impact of new technologies on how audiences consume, find share and create news.

I would be very grateful if you could fill in the following short questionnaire for further information

[ Respondents are invited to tick Yes/No or add comments ]

  1. I don’t buy a newspaper
  2. I use the internet for news more than any other sources
  3. My main news source is Google News.
  4. I have SkyPlus (or a similar device) and it has changed the way I watch TV
  5. I have uploaded video to the internet
  6. I have downloaded a legal or illegal TV programme, film or animation.
  7. I always carry a camera (either separately or via my phone)
  8. I keep a blog, upload photos and/or share video online.

Grammarians, look out. The subject lurches suddenly into the second person at this stage.

  1. You spend “too much” time playing World of Warcraft
  2. You have than one games console

In other words, the BBC wants as many people as it can find who play with gadgets, can’t follow a linear narrative, don’t have any friends, have a weird authority complex, and who would never listen or respect anything put out by the BBC in the first place.

The BBC frets that a third of Britons now “feel that the BBC does not make programmes for them”, according to its own polling, and that “60 per cent of the 16 to 24 age group watch less than three hours of TV a week”. But were these figures any different during, say, the Macmillan era when the target demographic spent happy Bank Holiday weekends knocking the crap out of each other in small seaside towns? Or when the only radio stations were “Home”, “Light”, and “Third”? We don’t know, because no one asked. It’s hard to think of a time when the BBC has been more pervasive.

So it’s really a tribute to the moral fibre of the nation that such pleas to make it more inclusive – by making it more crap – have gone ignored. We may even consider suspending our campaign to reinstate Michael Fish