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World of Wonder - Science on the BBC 2010

Kim Shillinglaw

Controller, BBC Two



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Finally. It's here at last. We've been planning this day for a while - a chance for us to talk about the importance of science to the UK, and why those of us making and broadcasting science programmes at the BBC are passionate about reaching as broad an audience as possible with our content.

Though science is a subject that shapes everything around us, it feels like the 21st century is a time when science, technology, engineering and maths are always on the front pages. Cancer treatments, climate change, nuclear power, the NHS, children's lunches - science has become something that everyone talks about, and one we're expecting to be a hot topic at the next general election. Frankly, I've got little truck with the idea you occasionally hear, that viewers aren't interested in science. I firmly believe we underestimate their interest in the way the world works at our peril.

But the way that we relate to science as a subject varies greatly. There are those who love it, and those who only feel the earth move from time to time. Those who won't miss a programme on genetics (you're out there, I know!), and those who want to know how you construct the Empire State Building. The challenge that the BBC has is to create science programming that is able to touch on this full range, whilst appealing to different audiences, with very different needs. Not a challenge that we take lightly and one that, as Commissioning Editor for Science & Natural History on television, has made me appreciate the sheer breadth and depth of what we do.

But as much as science often makes good television and radio programmes, we feel that it's important (if not imperative) to try to do more. When I was making Bang Goes The Theory, our mantra was simple - science isn't a subject: it's a state of mind. Which is one reason we're trying to do more to get people actively taking part in science, trying experiments at home, taking part in Lab UK surveys, coming along to one of our science roadshows - questioning the world around them, having a stab at being scientists themselves. And it's great to see my compadres in radio steering a bit of their output in a similar direction with the Material World hosted programme So You Want to Be a Scientist?, which I love the look of.

I'm personally passionate about getting people involved in science early. Some colleagues of mine recently interviewed Sir Tim Hunt for a new series we're doing called Beautiful Minds. He spoke really beautifully about sitting in Brixton library as a kid, hoovering up science he didn't always understand, but which absolutely burned into his brain. And although not everyone will agree with me, I think TV's got a big role to play here. The other day I was staring a picture of Cern - as you do - and my son asked, "What's that, mum?" "A particle accelerator," I said. "Oh, like Brian Cox and the Hadron collider!" he said. "I saw that on CBBC - Dani Harmer had a dream about smashing up atoms!" Not far off, and not a bad bit of information for an 8 year old to have knocking around in his head. We don't always get it right and, like everyone I guess, there are days when I doubt what I do. But that wasn't one of them.

As ever, it'll be up to the audiences to decide what they make of our output this year, but I hope that all our different viewers, young and old, serendipitous and committed, will find something they like - whether its Chemistry: A Volatile History on BBC Four telling the story of the discovery of the elements, E Numbers on BBC Two or Invisible Worlds on BBC One. Comments welcome! (As a postscript: I've just heard that last night's showing of How Earth Made Us - the first major science series in the BBC's Science season this year - drew in 3.5 million viewers; a staggering 13.1% share. This makes it the highest rating science programme on BBC Two for the last four years! It's only one measure of what we do of course, but I think we're off to a great start.)


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