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Reith Lectures 2010

Wednesday 19 May 2010, 17:35

Mark Damazer Mark Damazer

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Martin Rees

Editor's note: keep up with the lectures and contribute to the discussion on Twitter. Follow @reith_lectures and use the hashtag #Reith - SB

We have just finished recording this year's Reith lectures - given by Lord Rees - or Martin Rees as he prefers to be called. There are four of them - broadly based on the title 'Scientific Horizons.' I've enjoyed them a lot. Martin is President of The Royal Society, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge and Astronomer Royal. Amongst other things...

Martin was a natural for the Reiths - not least because the BBC as a whole is putting in a lot of effort on air this year to make it 'The Year of Science.' The lectures address the role of scientists, politicians, civil servants, journalists and the wider public in creating a more sophisticated debate about science and technolgy - in the hope of achieving more rational outcomes. The audience on each occasion has responded vigorously and there are some good jokes there too.

Lecture three is different - about cosmology and the limits of physics. There was an elegant argument about the notion of a fourth dimension and other life forms and about the different ways different scientists attack problems. In some ways science can be studied as very separate disciplines. You could see the generalists in the audience working hard - but (as with In Our Time) enjoying it hugely. There were lots of scientists there too. It was recorded at The Royal Society - so a home fixture for Martin. David Willetts, the new Science Minister, came at short notice and gamely took a question on funding. Lord Drayson had been at the first lecture - on the night the coalition was formed. The lecture was recorded at the point Gordon Brown resigned and David Cameron walked into Number 10. The audience was captive but Martin had them paying attention. We updated them all at the end.

I moved the Reiths to 0900 a few years ago - with a Saturday evening repeat... Previously they had two evening slots. It seems to me that the Reiths remain a big BBC moment and should be placed in a peak slot. The audience has responded well. I think they will do so this year too.

Mark Damazer is Controller of BBC Radio 4

  • This year's lectures will be broadcast on Tuesdays at 0900 on Radio 4 from 1 June and will be available as a podcast.
  • The Reith team at Radio 4 have been taking pictures throughout. There are more pictures, taken at the third recording at the Royal Society here.
  • Last year's Lectures, on morality and democracy, by Professor Michael Sandel are still available to listen to on the Radio 4 web site.
  • The picture shows Lord Rees at the lectern for the first of this year's lectures. It was taken by a BBC photographer.

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    Comment number 1.

    As usual Radio 4 continues to ignore the world of engineering – and the love affair with academics continues. If only the late Prof Eric Laithwaite were still with us :( :( :( It doesn’t seem so long ago that we heard 3 politicians devoting a significant amount of time, informing the electorate how important it is for the UK to maintain a manufacturing base. So where will the engineers come from to implement this alleged devotion to the manufacturing sector? University chemistry departments continue to close and the country faces a massive shortage of heavy power engineers in the next 5 – 10 years.

    Rave on John Donne!

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    Comment number 2.

    Thanks for your comment Lawrence Jones. Who would be your ideal speaker? Which engineers would make good Reith lecturers? If you were programming next year's Reiths, which engineer (or engineers - there is precedent for more than one lecturer in a series) would you choose?

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog

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    Comment number 3.

    Replying to message 2

    //Who would be your ideal speaker?//

    Mr. Bowbrick, I come from an industrial R&D background and so the names wouldn’t mean anything to you. However in the spirit of the discussion, Prof. Harold Aspden or Mr. Ivor Catt would be good choices. Anyone whose persistent childhood observations included: ‘show me how it doos’ [1] [2] would be OK with me. I recommend Prof Laithwaite’s short series of articles entitled: ‘All Things Are Possible’ for the non-engineer.

    I preferred the old style format Reith lectures without the highly filtered invited audience – who always appear to fawn over the guest speaker. ‘The rise and fall of industrial Britain’ (with a rigorous analysis and no cocktail-hour theory) would be my choice of subject for a series of RA lectures.


    [1] http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Projects/Johnson/Chapters/Ch3.html
    [2] http://campus.udayton.edu/~hume/Maxwell/maxwell.htm

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    Comment number 4.

    Thank you Lawrence Jones! Excellent ideas. I'll pass them to the Reith producers. I have no influence there, of course, but I'm sure they'll find them interesting...

    Steve Bowbrick, editor, Radio 4 blog


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