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Quentin Cooper's week

Friday 14 August 2009, 16:10

Quentin Cooper Quentin Cooper

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Quentin Cooper, BBC Radio 4 presenter

Editor's note: Quentin sent me this update to his blog post this morning - SB.

Look, the thing about blogs is they're the almost unedited brain-to-webpage outpourings of whoever writes them and although I thought "Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan" which is one of the most fun in the series, unfortunately I typed an extra "I" which made it Star Trek III which, as any fule know, is pretty rubbish. My error was not noticed until blog-readers started pointing it out. I am suffused with shame..."

Now read on:

Swine flu has arrived in Dubrovnik. Two passengers on a cruise ship are showing symptoms. So how should the authorities respond? The press - including me - are summoned to a large meeting to hear what's been decided: 30,000 face masks will be made available (Dubrovnik has a population of only around 40,000); curfew will be enforced; all gatherings including football matches to mass are cancelled. Although not - as I point out through barely-suppressed laughter - this one. Clearly the press are expendable.

As you might have guessed - this was an exercise (it worked as a trick opening for Star Trek III so I thought it was worth trying for a Radio 4 blog post). The bad news was that I was watching scientists from across Europe make a right pig's ear out of trying to deal with a simulated swine flu scenario, suggesting a strategy that would have turned a small-scale problem into a full blown panic.

The good news was that this was taking place in the real Dubrovnik, a stunningly beautiful city I'd last been in before the 1991 siege and which is now back looking better than ever. I'm mentioning this not only because I've hugely enjoyed being at these science communication workshops in Croatia attempting to explain the workings of the media, but because I think some Radio 4 listeners imagine that for once-a-week programmes like mine, presenters are kept in a freezer between shows, thawed out just before transmission and returned there as soon as we are off air.

Material World takes up roughly half my week - preparing, researching, scripting and coming up with puns most but not all of which never get past my producer. The rest of the time I'm usually running around between conferences, other (lesser) programmes and the odd bit of more exotic work like these Dubrovnik workshops.

This was something aimed at senior figures who were supposedly already fairly media-savvy. Many were - but what I found alarming was how there remain some people high-up in science and science policy who are adamantly antediluvian in their thinking that it's entirely the public's own fault if they don't understand scientific issues or can't work out what a scientist is waffling on about. During our mock press conference on the swine flu outbreak one of them protested that "this isn't about science communication, this is about thinking on your feet" - as if helping science reach people doesn't involve responding to people and situations.

This is something which used to be a minor passion and that I'm now - including right now - at the risk of becoming a major bore about: I fervently believe that science shapes all our lives, that everyone has the right to at least a basic grasp of how, and that if you can help people past their prejudices that science is boring and/or incomprehensible, there's myriad fascinating and life-enhancing stories to tell. So it really gets my goat and other metaphorical livestock when I run into those - like one or two of the scientists in Dubrovnik - who blame the media, the public and everyone but themselves for a lack of wider scientific appreciation.

As I said - I can bore about this at length, so best leave it there even though this has been a big part of my week, like it is most weeks. That aside - apart from the continuing strange sensation of being a Manchester City supporter on the edge of a new season where the mountain of cash is overshadowed only by the mountain of expectations - I'm in recovery from 6 weeks of the 'visualisation' of Material World.

In case you missed it - and the vast majority did because it's a radio programme usually listened to via radios - this was a pilot scheme to give added visual content to for anyone hearing us live via their computer. Some people loved it, some hated it, and some liked it but found it got in the way of all the other things they usually do while hearing us live via their computer. That mixed response aside, the main focus seemed to be my physical appearance. There was a lot of guidance on my terrible posture, comments pro and anti my lively gesticulations (I wave my hands more when broadcasting than in real life, discuss), and - despite having my photo on the website - widespread disappointment at what I look like. My favourite was the backhanded compliment that came in during the final week of visualisation: "Quentin's not at all like I imagined. Great voice though".

Quentin Cooper is presenter of Material World

  • The next edition of Material World is on Radio 4 at 1630 tomorrow. It's a live programme. The programme archive is here and the podcast is here.

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    Comment number 1.

    I am almost severely dissappointed that the presenter of a science programme dedicated to the dissemination of accurate scientific information should get such a basic piece of vital information wrong on a blog from a once proud institution as the bbc, it is clearly yet another example of the shoddy journalism and dumbing down that has inflicted this once noble and respected corportation.
    As ANY self respecting purveyor of fantasy fiction will tell you, the Kobayashi Maru test was not the 'trick' opening of Star Trek III, but was vital to the opening of the SECOND movie The wrath of Khan. Perhaps if the organisers of the simulated swine flu scenario had taken a leaf out of Captain Kirks answer to HIS particular test dilemma (as demonstrated in the recent continuity smashing time-bending literal 'reboot' movie) Quentin would have saved a great deal of bother. Then again it would have been a more boring blog

 

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