The Life of Brian


I  wrote this three weeks ago and filed it away as rather trivial. A plug for Brian Cox’s latest pop science TV series in the Graun media pages is hardly big news. But then Richard mentioned it in his latest, and in a comment under my “Weak Minds” article John Shade picked up a quote from Cox in a piece by a New Zealand  sociologist calling for climate scepticism to be criminalised. Nonsense from the likes of Cox has  a force that sheer common sense can hardly hope to combat. Still, we do our best.

Here at Cliscep we try to defend science, rational thinking and common sense against the forces of darkness, antiscientific irrationality and insanity, as exemplified for example by Professor Brian Cox, surely one of the most scientifically ignorant beings ever to grace the pop charts.

In an interview in the Guardian in response to the interviewer’s mention of public cynicism towards professional expertise, Brian Cox replies:

“It’s entirely wrong, and it’s the road back to the cave. The way we got out of the caves and into modern civilisation is through the process of understanding and thinking. Those things were not done by gut instinct. Being an expert does not mean that you are someone with a vested interest in something; it means you spend your life studying something…”

Cox is talking about distrust of economic experts in the case of Brexit, but the Guardian’s interviewer manages to bring in climate change with a link to an article by Michael White which asks: “Should we listen to the experts on the EU referendum?”in which White says:

“…a lot of well-meaning types, including me, went out and bought diesel cars as a small way of helping save Australia’s coral reef and other species threatened by climate change, also including you and me. It may not all be caused by human activity, but the experts – there we go again – are overwhelmingly of the view that most of it is and we must act together to offset its consequences… Experts are divided over the causes of the climatic changes we see all around us in every country, aren’t they? Well, no, actually. About 97% of those who are supposed to know what they’re talking about support the consensus.”

If Michael White really thinks, or thought, that his buying a diesel motor car would save the human race from extinction then he is a very foolish person. And by linking his 97% reference to an article by John Cook at SkepticalScience he confirms this impression (unless it’s the work of a Guardian spambot that automatically links the term “97%” to John Cook – cartoonist, blogger, serial liar, Goebbels impersonator and convinced Christian.)

But back to Cox. Most of the article is a plug for his forthcoming science series on BBC TV in which, we are warned: “the presenter seeks to explain why icebergs float, grass is green, water is blue, planets are round, and honeycomb is built out of hexagons.”

The interviewer (Decca Aitkenhead) who claims to have got “straight As in science GCSEs” confesses:

“The embarrassing truth, however, is that I watched his new series’ first programme three times, took notes, kept rewinding the most complicated bits, and even then still grasped at best only a quarter of what Cox was on about.”

(Don’t worry dear. If you’ve grasped a quarter of the explanation of why icebergs float you’re probably 25% up on the Guardian’s environmental team). Cox puts her mind at rest when he states:

“If it were up to me, actually, I would abolish exams. I say to my students [he teaches a first-year class at Manchester university]: ‘You don’t even need to do an exam really. You don’t need me to tell you whether you understand Einstein’s theory of relativity or not. You’ll know when you get it.’ Because I think that education is about taking responsibility for your own understanding, and you know when you understand something.”

Yeah. You know what you know when you know that you know it: the credo of every mediaeval theologian, as reproduced for science students at Manchester by a boys band ex-star. Maybe he should have worked it up into a song lyric. Maybe he will.

Cox’s musings on the nature of science don’t end there:

“Well, so, if you list the questions now that are at the frontiers of fundamental science, there are some very immediate questions. Are we alone in the universe? That’s one of them.” Cox thinks other civilisations are a logical inevitability – “The universe is probably infinite, so they’re going to have to. Given that we evolved, and we are consistent with the laws of nature, then it becomes a game of chance, and no matter how small the chances are, if the universe is formally infinite, then there will be an infinite number of civilisations.”

And; by the same “laws of nature”, “if the universe is formally infinite”, it follows as “a logical inevitability” that an infinite number of lizard men named Geoff Chambers are at this very minute (not to mention yesterday and tomorrow) venting their spleen on an infinite number of three-headed supercilious extra-terrestrial twats named Brian Cox; and that the same number of monkeys equipped with typewriters are making exactly the same point: that we are being governed, entertained, educated, and otherwise distracted by idiots.

How can anyone who’s just quoted Feynman say anything so crassly unscientific? “Are we alone in the universe?” is no more a scientific question than: “Will my disc make it to the top of the charts?” or “Does mummy love me?” (the answers to which are: Yes! and Yes! in at least some of the infinite number of civilisations which Cox has just demonstrated must exist.)

The interview finishes on a slightly sinister note with a question about the future – Cox’s future, that is.

“I don’t know actually, it’s a good question. I don’t know. I like learning curves. I was a musician for a while, then I did physics, physics research, I love teaching, that’s a big learning curve.”

[Nice one Brian, nice and mathematical. Except that the thing about learning curves is that they’re flat at the top. They’re not going anywhere.]

Then, to the question: “Isn’t TV a huge learning curve?” he replies:

“Ye-es. But I’ve done that quite a long time now, 10 years really. So, I never quite know, really. I’m always on the lookout for something else to learn about, someone else to do or run.” He pauses, and laughs. “Or something.”

Seems Bri is looking for an opening more suitable to his talents than sweeping up the bosons on the floor at CERN. Running someone, or something. What about Prime Minister Bri? Or Leader of the Opposition? No; not opposition. That wouldn’t be your style. What about just … Leader?

Brian of Britain. Has a nice ring to it.

46 thoughts on “The Life of Brian

  1. I watched the programme and the thought came to me. If the percentage of CO2 is rising could it be because the percentage of oxygen is falling due to the massive felling of forests in Canada, Indonesia and Brazil? Felling trees for wood chips already an economic disaster is also and ecological disaster.

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  2. I dont get that BBC TV here in Spain. Mr. Elliot: CO2 concentration is rising because we burn fossil fuels. Some of the CO2 is absorbed by the ocean, some goes into making plants (which release oxygen and keep the carbon), some is removed by chemical reactions, and some stays in the air.

    As regards icebergs, i suggest answers you can use in a multiple choice questionnaire:

    1. Because they are full of air bubbles
    2. Because they are hollow
    3. Because they sit on the sea floor
    4. Because they are mostly frozen fresh water

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  3. I should have explained exactly what Cox gets wrong, since the interviewer didn’t spot it, despite her straight As in science GCSEs. She says:

    Cox thinks other civilisations [in the universe] are a logical inevitability – “The universe is probably infinite, so they’re going to have to [exist]. Given that we evolved, and we are consistent with the laws of nature, then it becomes a game of chance, and no matter how small the chances are, if the universe is formally infinite, then there will be an infinite number of civilisations.”

    For Cox, the universe goes from being “probably infinite” to “formally infinite” in the next sentence, and this is given as the reason for there being an infinite number of civilisations.

    Now the concept of formal infinity is a strictly mathematical concept and I’m not sure that anything in the real world can be formally infinite unless the universe itself is formally infinite, whatever that means. Big Bang theory posits the universe starting at a moment in time, and however fast stuff happens, you can’t get to an infinite number of particles, let alone an infinite number of civilisations, from a standing start. I suppose you could posit an infinite universe under a Steady State theory. Is that what Cox is doing? I’m way out of my depth here, and would appreciate input from mathematicians, but it looks as if Cox is using “infinite” in the normal non-formal sense of “ever so big”. This is the common argument for other civilisations: “Look, there’s billions of stars, probably billions of planets, therefore it stands to reason…”

    Whatever. You can no more deduce that there must be life on other planets, let alone other civilisations, from the fact that the universe is ever so big, than you can prove that there must be a blue banana from the fact that there are ever so many bananas in the world. Cox is talking nonsense.

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  4. “If it were up to me, actually, I would abolish exams……You don’t need me to tell you whether you understand Einstein’s theory of relativity or not. You’ll know when you get it.”

    So according to Coxy, we are all experts in the assessment of our own ability to know and ‘get’ really complicated stuff. He’s probably right. I knew I just didn’t ‘get’ General Relativity – hence I failed the exam and hence (and this is very important, Coxy, so pay attention please), OTHER people also knew I didn’t ‘get’ it and hence I was not offered a position at some very important observatory or research institute exploring say, relativistic astrophysics and its implications for the Bing bang Theory or Steady State Model. Even more vitally, I was not charged with the responsibility of teaching general relativity to others. I suspect in Coxy’s ideal world, we can all be trusted to know and honestly say whether or not we ‘get’ it and hence, sans formal qualifications, advance our careers on that basis alone. This is a viable suggestion or Cox is a complete nutter. Take your pick.

    Cox thinks that the list of questions now that are “at the frontiers of fundamental science” includes the unassuming query:

    “Are we alone in the universe?”

    Geoff is right. This is less a question of fundamental science, more a question of metaphysics, philosophy, even mathematical logic. Cox attempts his answer using the latter – and fails. He assumes that there must be other life because the Universe is ‘probably’ (practically or formally) infinite. I’m not certain if there is any practical difference between the two definitions, but the upshot seems to be that, given that the Universe is infinite in both space – AND time, remember – life MUST have evolved, not only in our little corner of the cosmos, but everywhere and everywhen. But this is a problem, because, if true, there would be little green footprints everywhere throughout the cosmos – and there aren’t (at least, not as far as we can discern). They would also have definitely developed the technological expertise to enable them to come and say hello – and they haven’t (at least, up until now they haven’t knocked on the front door and smiled, saying ‘Hi, we’re from just across the Galaxy, thought we’d pop over and say hello’). So either the little green men are deliberately keeping themselves to themselves for now AND our technical apparatus is woefully inadequate to identify the cosmos-wide imprints of civilisation past and present OR – the Universe is finite and advanced life is a rarity.

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  5. Thanks Stew. It’s probably those Russian hackers again.

    Jaime
    I disagree that the question of whether we are alone in the universe is metaphysical. It’s a simple question of fact. Whether we are or we aren’t has no metaphysical or logical bearing on anything.

    On the question of the little green men failing to manifest themselves: Every single comment I’ve seen on the subject from scientists overlooks a simple fact well known to all science fiction fans: the vast difference in time scales involved. Our distance from primitive sub-human brutes is measured in hundreds of thousands of years. Our civilised history in thousands. Our civilisation would be unimaginable to someone from 200 years ago as the civilisation 200 years hence will no doubt be unimaginable to us. The age of the universe and of our planetary system suggests that it would be easy for a parallel evolutionary process on another planet to be a billion years in advance of ours (or a billion years behind). It is absurd to even speculate what might separate us from whatever beings are a thousand, let alone a billion years, ahead of us. (Well, not absurd. It’s the stuff of the best science fiction – not the Hollywood version).

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  6. Geoff, I think the contemplation of the question ‘Are we alone in the Universe’ has profound metaphysical and philosophical implications for the human race. Naturally, the answer to that question – yes, or no – is a matter of simple fact.

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  7. Geoff:
    For Cox, the universe goes from being “probably infinite” to “formally infinite” in the next sentence, and this is given as the reason for there being an infinite number of civilisations.

    Untrue. The little word ‘if’ gets in the way:

    ..if the universe is formally infinite, then there will be an infinite number of civilisations.

    I don’t understand how the universe can be formally infinite either, but I’m betting Cox understands it better than I do and will defer to him. You perhaps prefer your own opinion. And that is fitting for a climate skeptic, who must by necessity prefer his or her own opinions to those of experts.

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  8. The greatest threat to alien civilisations is normally whatever humans are fretting about at the time of writing.

    A while ago that would have been something like a nuclear war or similar disaster:
    http://galactic.no/rune/janos2a.html

    More recently the question might have been: how would aliens have survived runaway global warming?
    http://dailycaller.com/2016/05/26/study-global-warming-on-other-planets-could-make-finding-aliens-harder/

    My new theory is that a galactic civilisation will usually face collapse when a single nation state votes to exit from a local politico-economic union on its home world.

    That’s the reason why we haven’t seen any – gets them, every time.

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  9. If the Universe is formally infinite, then there are an infinite number of planet Earths waiting for an infinite number of advanced alien civilisations to come and visit them. So maybe even infinite numbers of aliens have trouble getting around to see infinite numbers of earthlings desperate to know if there is other life in the Universe.

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  10. LOL. I think the aliens have tuned into Brian’s programmes and been scared off. They were avoiding us anyway because we’re descended from the B Ark but Brian Cox hammered in the final nail on the sign saying ‘Avoid, boring gits!’

    When the BBC still did decent science, they produced a few good documentaries on what planets needed to evolve life and subsequently intelligent life. It was an extensive list and a planet in the Goldilocks zone was just the first requirement. One of the sings seems to be enough catastrophe to drive evolution but not enough to wipe the slate clean too often. Intelligence is not an automatic evolutionary benefit.

    Last night the BBC transmitted a fawningly bad look at the north western American native cultures. The idiot presenter waxed lyrical over civilisations that were essentially still stone age, as if that was somehow impressive. The main reason for the lack of advancement seems to have been an over abundance of resources. Life was too good to need to develop agriculture or metal working. However rape, beheading, slavery, kidnap, whaling, and warfare were ok because they were for tribal honour and resources, not for any silly white man’s reason like acquiring land.

    I think the presenter’s head might have exploded had he realised that the reason we’d stopped hunting whales was because drilled oil replaced blubber.

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  11. The notion of an infinite universe is an absurd one, as several commenters have shown. All sorts of nonsense flows from the supposition. The old, and somewhat mysterious phrase, ‘finite but unbounded’ was a better description of it all.

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  12. I agree. And to say, as Raff does, that Cox must have a better understanding of what an infinite Universe is – compared to us amateurish climate sceptics – because he is an ‘expert’ is equally absurd. There is no gradation of the level of comprehension of infinity – it is essentially incomprehensible. The only way it can be notionally appreciated is not by contemplation of its enormity, because enormity necessarily implies limits – however distant they may be – but by comparison with that which is finite, i.e. us, planet Earth, the Sun, the Solar System, our Galaxy, the Local Cluster etc. No matter how big a chunk of matter and energy occupying a finite spacetime you may wish to consider, a comparison of that finite entity with infinity will ALWAYS reduce that entity to zero, nothing. Essentially, this implies that anything within an infinite cosmos is formally relegated to the status of nothing, zero – finite things become non-existent in relation to the cosmos ‘within’ which they supposedly ‘exist’. Planet Earth and we who dwell upon it may never expect the rest of the Universe to interact with us because we – along with the rest of the Universe – do not formally exist in relation TO that Universe. On reflection, in contrast to this absurd hypothetical isolation, I think I prefer the notion that we are alone in a very, very large Cosmos, or that the limited number of other alien civilisations in that cosmos have not thus far had the opportunity or the incentive to come visit us.

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  13. From Hitchhiker’s, on the infinite nature of the universe:

    4. Population: None

    It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there most be a finite number of inhabited worlds. And finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any person you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.

    ——

    (by John Lloyd apparently)

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  14. This was from the closing of Cox’s earlier series, The Human Universe…

    — “We’re an infinitesimal specks in a vast infinity of universes. Our current best theory for the origin of the universe, backed up by experimental evidence, suggests that there are an infinite number of universes. An infinite number of copies of you and me. And that the existence of the whole thing is inevitable. No purpose. Nothing special. You are, because you have to be. How does that make you feel? Well, the wonderful thing is, nobody knows. Nobody’s worked it out yet. So the answer is up to you. What do you think?” —

    He really is The One chosen by Science.

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  15. Ian Woolley, you said or quoted:

    It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, … not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there most be a finite number of inhabited worlds.

    and deduced that average population is zero. But that is obviously false. It is like saying that there is an infinite number of integers but not every one is odd, therefore there’s a finite number of even numbers.

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  16. Ben Pile (28 Jul 16 at 7:12 pm)
    Everything that’s wrong with scientism is contained in that short quote from Cox, like the condensed blob of glup that contained the whole universe before the Big Bang.

    “We’re infinitesimal specks in a vast infinity of universes. Our current best theory for the origin of the universe, backed up by experimental evidence, suggests that there are an infinite number of universes.”

    First the bald assertion of a bizarre proposition, followed by: “Our current best theory … suggests that…” That’s how we used to argue in the playground. It wouldn’t work in court, or in a TV panel discussion. Why does Cox think it will work for him? What universe is he living in?

    “An infinite number of copies of you and me.”

    I can see how that might appeal to a certain sort of person. Particularly the “me” part.

    “And that the existence of the whole thing is inevitable. No purpose. Nothing special. You are, because you have to be.”

    Trite naive determinism, the stuff of every pub philosophy debate. Except you’re only allowed to join in if you’re up to date on the latest in quantum theory.

    “How does that make you feel? Well, the wonderful thing is, nobody knows.”

    Oh yes we do. Here we pub philosophers can join in, because if there’s one thing we know (and no expert can know for us) it’s how we feel.

    In an effort to grips with this apology for an argument, I waded through the Wikipaedia article on Many Worlds Interpretation. I expected to be baffled and confused, but I didn’t expect this:

    “… a poll of 72 “leading cosmologists and other quantum field theorists” conducted by the American political scientist David Raub in 1995 showing 58% agreement with “Yes, I think MWI is true”…. Max Tegmark also reports the result of a “highly unscientific” poll taken at a 1997 quantum mechanics workshop. According to Tegmark, “The many worlds interpretation (MWI) scored second, comfortably ahead of the consistent histories and Bohm interpretations.” … Michael Nielsen counters: “at a quantum computing conference at Cambridge in 1998, a many-worlder surveyed the audience of approximately 200 people… Many-worlds did just fine, garnering support on a level comparable to, but somewhat below, Copenhagen and decoherence.” However, Nielsen notes that it seemed most attendees found it to be a waste of time: Asher Peres “got a huge and sustained round of applause… when he got up at the end of the polling and asked ‘And who here believes the laws of physics are decided by a democratic vote?’”

    Well at least no-one’s claiming Cox’s “current best theory” is preferred by 97% of Schrödinger’s multiple malleable moggies.

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  17. Raff, the implication of what you’re saying is that none of the science in H2G2 should be trusted. I find that very hard to believe. You’re not being serious.

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  18. Geoff — ‘Well at least no-one’s claiming Cox’s “current best theory” is preferred by 97% of Schrödinger’s multiple malleable moggies.’

    I guess if there are an infinite number of universes, implying an infinite number of physics conferences, Brian is free to point to any infinite number of them which gave the answer he prefers. (Assuming that the answers physicists give across universes varies).

    Speaking of Infinity and the BBC… Probably the worst episode of Horizon ever, (including the one on global dimming), was this one http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qszch — ‘To Infinity and Beyond’, which dealt more with the directors pretentiousness than the development of the mathematical concept. There’s a copy on Youtube.

    What it actually says about the concept of infinity could probably fit into one paragraph. I blogged it a few years ago:

    ‘“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe…”, says a sinister Steven Berkoff — an actor, seemingly playing the role of either some kind of researcher escaped from another dimension (in which the script from Bladerunner does not exist to be plagiarised by pretentious documentary makers) or infinity personified. “…Things that would change how you see this world. Enough to drive men to madness. … Your intuition is no use here. Faith alone can’t save you. … Is the Earth just one of uncountable copies tumbling through an unending void? … These are the deepest mysteries of the Universe.”’

    It’s as if there were no other developments in science worthy of attention. All of which raises the question, what is the BBC trying to get us to believe, with all this pseudo-scientific wonderment? Science is supposed to have explanatory power. But on the BBC, it descends to slack-jawed awe, and even mysticism.

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  19. LOL.

    “Nicola Davis delves into the world of cosmology to tackle one of its biggest questions – is our universe infinite? With cosmologist and author Dr Christophe Galfard for a guide, we travel to the outermost boundaries of space and time in search of answers.”

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  20. Personally I think you are being slightly unfair to Brian Cox. His task is not to satisfy most of you commenting here, but to stimulate the widest possible audience. He is trying to interest this audience by showing you can approach it by considering some very basic questions – some which young children ask their parents and to which they have no answers.

    How is he doing? In my opinion, not very well. Each topic is overly long with the director spending too much time lingering over choice bits of film. How long for instance should the northern lights need to be shown? Why involve a nutty British family (with a daughter named Aurora) and show them driving north through Scandinavia to placate their cravings)? Some things worked, because they were new and unusual – illustrating gravity by showing us high towers of people in a spanish town (but even this went on far too long).
    Brian is no Carl Sagan, but he is trying to adopt some of the same mannerisms. His purple prose mostly doesn’t work but I was taken once when Cox spoke about a photon emitted from a far distant star, travelling across space for immense periods to enter our retina and be interpreted by our brain. So forming connections. Nothing like as memorable as “being built of starstuff” or ” billions and billions” , but he is trying.

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  21. I’ve always found Cox sounded liked an unscientific airhead
    ..and suspect his science TV career blossomed due to his wife Gia Milinovich being a TV executive at the time.

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  22. I like Gia. She’s helped some of us out a lot on another very controversial subject. I don’t feel free to go into details on that for now. I also note with interest Brian being fired in his youth by Richard Feynman’s example and teaching. I haven’t tried to watch the latest TV series mind you.

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  23. Alan,

    “Personally I think you are being slightly unfair to Brian Cox. His task is not to satisfy most of you commenting here, but to stimulate the widest possible audience.”

    Then he should not abuse his position as a ‘populariser of science’ to pronounce false judgement upon climate change sceptics or overextend his undoubted expertise in particle physics to claim that climate model projections are the best science available and therefore we should not be questioning them.

    “Cox told the Guardian that climate sceptics had exploited the misconception that there was doubt about climate change in order to push a political agenda. “It can be a way in for people who have an agenda that’s not scientific.
    “You’re allowed to say, well I think we should do nothing. That’s a policy choice. But what you’re not allowed to do is to claim there’s a better estimate of the way that the climate will change, other than the one that comes out of the computer models. It’s nonsensical to say ‘we know better’, you can’t know better.”
    He said the strategy of challenging the science of climate change was dangerous because it promoted the idea that science was political and up for debate.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/03/brian-cox-scientists-climate-change

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  24. Jaime Jessop. I was reviewing the TV science series and Brian Cox the presenter in it, not Brian Cox and all his utterences. The BBC clearly view him as a good general science presenter and presumably have opinion polls to back this opinion up.

    It should be possible to judge a programme, not so far mentioning climate, independently. Certainly I have enjoyed watching Iain Stewart’s geological programmes (when I can overcome my envy) without constantly having to remember he’s a sellout when it comes to explaining climate science.

    Judge Cox’s programmes on their own merits alone.

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  25. Alan,

    Perhaps you were reviewing the latest TV series but the comments here which you deem to be unfair to Cox are not specifically in relation to his performance in this latest series, but refer more generally to his promotion of science as the domain of ‘experts’ who should not be questioned lest civilisation should be headed ‘back to the caves’. It is this viewpoint and his past criticisms of climate sceptics which has prompted this post I suspect, in contrast to the otherwise not especially noteworthy fact that Cox has yet another unengaging series airing on TV.

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  26. Strictly, Jaime and Alan, Geoff was basing his critique on Cox’s article in the Guardian, particularly the many-worlds bit. I dislike the many-worlds approach, of which Cox is far from the pioneer, but I do have sympathy with Alan that we shouldn’t coathang all possible objections to Brian on this one thread (as Steve McIntyre would put it).

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  27. In an infinite universe, I am Brian Cox somewhere, and that is a disturbing concept.
    Fortunately, I have already read the cure and he was called Douglas Adams.

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  28. RICHARD DRAKE says:
    30 Jul 16 at 3:20 pm
    “[…] I also note with interest Brian being fired in his youth by Richard Feynman’s example and teaching.”

    Richard, when I am in charge of the BBC science education department then Brian Cox may well be fired with extra enthusiasm.

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  29. Michael Hart. Speaking entirely about Brian Cox’s TV programme output, I would not fire him, I would fire his producer(s) and director. He is well known, personable and enthusiastic (so much so that he can be featured on a radio programme like “Dead Ringers” with instant recognition). If you were in charge of the BBC science education department and tried to sack him, it would be you that would depart pronto for wasting an asset.

    The concept behind the present science series is a good one – take some commonly asked questions and, instead of just giving the answers, explore how getting to the answers opens up the awe and majesty of both science and the universe around us. And, as far as possible do this using material that is new and intrinsically interesting. On balance, I believe the series fails and for reasons I have given here before. But those reasons are basically directorial decisions either imposed on Cox, or because the Director was too weak and allowed Cox too much leeway.

    Nevertheless there are good bits. I’ve not seen the penetration of different wavelengths of light into water better shown or explained than when Cox dove into deep clear Icelandic water and his red wetsuit lost its colour. It was cleverly done, the more observant viewers saw this happening, before it was pointed out and then explained. This gave added impact because those viewers made their own “scientific” observation”.

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  30. Defending my criticism of Cox is about as much fun as explaining a joke, but here goes. Not because it’s important that one TV presenter said something silly in an interview, but because the BBC has become an immense stupidity-creating machine.

    “Are we alone in the universe?” is a fascinating question, but it’s not a scientific one. Whether the universe is formally infinite or not has no bearing on it. (And the multi-worlds theory which Ben Pile mentioned in a comment which I replied to is entirely irrelevant – sorry for having digressed on that. Here Cox is talking about this universe being infinite, not about an infinite number of universes.)

    “Cox thinks other civilisations are a logical inevitability.” Does he understand the meaning of “logical”? Or is he just speaking carelessly? Either way, he shows himself unfit for the job.

    As a populariser of science, Cox has a right to simplify, tune his talents to the level of the audience. The audience for a BBC science programme is – what? – 10% of viewers? Presumably the most scientifically savvy10% – those with Science A-levels or youngsters who hope to have them. He should be talking to them. But he’s not. He’s talking to a Guardian journalist who boasts about her straight As in science GCSEs, but thinks that “amateurish scientific curiosity feels futile” who states that she is not interested in science, and is not bothered either way whether we are alone in the universe.

    He tries to descend to her level with a theory of knowledge that belongs to fringe religious cults: “You don’t need me to tell you whether you understand Einstein’s theory of relativity or not. You’ll know when you get it.”

    Does Sister Wendy say: “I don’t know whart Art is, but I know what I like?” Does Baldrick say: “You’ll know it’s Anglo Saxon by the way you feel about it.” Perhaps they do. I bet the BBC has opinion polls to back them up too.

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  31. I must admit to not having watched any of the new series other than a brief snippet, but on first impressions it seems afflicted with the same tedious, slow burn, ‘revelatory’ type format that has become so characteristic of BBC Horizon programs. You’re just begging the program to get on with it and state the bleedin’ obvious, but it keeps circumambulating with new and ever more digressional images, new ‘little stories’, new ‘fascinating examples’ of the yet to be explained simple fact that e.g., gravity acts inwardly, equally, in all directions. Programming for programming’s sake, art for art’s sake. Definitely not science for science’s sake. That’s probably not Cox’s doing, it’s more likely the fault of the production manager/director. The BBC seems to think that it’s audience will never ‘get it’ quickly and directly with science subjects; instead they must be led up the garden path, around the house, through the yard, through the kitchen, stopping to admire the woodburning stove, back through the hallway, out the front door, and then back to the garden gate in preparation for a single stunning revelation of a scientific ‘truth’.

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  32. Geoff: point taken that your critique of Cox’s argument was based on an idea of the universe being infinite, not the many-worlds interpretation. My bad.

    What the discussion has reminded me about is a book recommended by Matt Ridley two years ago: Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional – and What that Means for Life in the Universe. The very unusual Earth-Moon biplanetary system may be essential to the evolution of life and harder to find elsewhere than people think. Goldilocks, not God, of course receives the credit. But I confess I like being improbable.

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  33. Michael Gove went on to say, about these ‘experts”

    “these people are the same ones that got things consistently wrong” (Euro, etc)

    So I’m sure he and the public are happy to listen to experts that get things right!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Gove:…Take back control from those organisations that are distant, unaccountable, élitist, and have their own interest at heart… organisations with acronyms..

    Faisal Islam: Elitist??? The Lord High Chancellor??? A conspiracy of élites? It sounds like something out of Wolf Hall!

    In Faisal’s world, to suggest that there is such a thing as a self-interested élite is to take us back, if not to the cave, to the middle ages. He seems to share with Cox the idea that critical thinking is something we should have grown out of.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Richard Drake says: 30 Jul 16 at 3:20 pm

    “I like Gia. She’s helped some of us out a lot on another very controversial subject. I don’t feel free to go into details on that for now.”

    You teaser, spill the beans !!

    ps. cant stand to watch/hear Professor Brian Cox for some reason I can’t explain.

    he is probably part of the BBC dumb down effort & does it very well in every doc/prog I’ve seen.
    says nothing new, stays on the party line & smiles like the all knowing Budda while straring at “the wonder”

    Like

  36. Cox happily puts forward the nonsense that Venus is an example of a runaway ‘greenhouse’ effect. If he believes this he’s a fool but if he knows it’s nonsense then he’s a liar. Either way I see no reason to listen to a single thing he says.

    Like

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