“Science” shows on BBC2. Are these aimed at nine-year-olds or something? Anyone enjoy this stuff?

Recently seen: Horizon on ‘superbugs’ and James May’s ‘Thinks You Need to Know’ series. Last night’s need-to-know was on chemistry. Lots of silly animations and couple of chemical formulas with warnings “isn’t this hard!”. They showed the periodic table with no attempt at explaining the reason for the structure (Hello, electrons? Atomic number?) Just a bit of “Hydrogen is up the top because it’s light… er… mostly metals over here… heavy stuff down the bottom…” No mention of molecular bonds, isotopes, a mention of radioactivity (which isn’t really chemistry, but whatever) with no attempt at all to say what radioactivity actually is (beta decay anyone?). Argh!

The Horizon on superbugs had lots of shallow depth-of-field shots of pill bottles and people in lab coats walking down corridors. They said “DNA” and “evolving” a few times, but failed to explain in any way about what in the bacteria was mutating or how bacteria could do this. Y’know, like some biology about proteins or enzymes, metabolism… anything.

I don’t thing I’ll blame Captain Slow, his programs about technology were pretty good.

Maybe the good stuff is on BBC4 :frowning:

Horizon is pretty much unwatchable these days. At some point, they seemed to give up on science in favour of anything speculative.

It mostly is, but Horizon has been in decline from before BBC4 even existed.

I wrote this the last time this subject came up:

This is a slightly different issue - but I think it strikes a similar point, which is that (in the name of being approachable), nuance and gravitas have gone out of the window. At the risk of coming over all Fred Trueman - when I was a teenager, Horizon was a hardish science programme and there’s not much risk of that nowadays. To an extent, i think the BBC has lost its way somewhat. They have taken the idea of “providing something for everyone” and interpreted it totally the wrong way - they shouldn’t be providing programming that everyone will watch and understand and thus get large ratings - they should be providing a wide variety of content, which may get smaller ratings, but within which everyone can find something that they enjoy. I’m sad to say, I don’t enjoy much of the BBC’s science, nature and documentary output anymore.

All Horizon does is scare people who buy The Daily Express for its incessant wonder pill/super food “reporting”, and practically any science show presented by someone famous for something other than science (i.e. James May) is going to be for complete morons. I mean, why would you watch science shows if you’re not vaguely interested in science, and why would you be interested in science and yet know so little about it that these programmes are actually stimulating?

You get about 10 minutes of actual content in a half hour episode, if you’re lucky. The rest is a lot of pointless interviews with people vaguely related to the topic and presenters travelling to various locations to illustrate some point that really doesn’t need illustrating. “I’m here in the Sahara desert. Behind me there are billions of sand particles. You know what else there’s billions of? People!”

If you’re really lucky you’ll get an actual demonstration of whatever they’re talking about using an experiment that a twelve year old could tell you is unscientific and generally useless.

ETA: Cumbrian has put it very well. I’ve been unimpressed with recent BBC efforts in nature programmes too. I found Life and Planet Earth very disappointing compared to David Attenborough’s productions. I bought them on blu-ray right after watching The Life of Birds and they’re just not the same.

We have the same problem in the US. TLC used to be “The Learning Channel”. Now the only thing you can learn watching that channel is how crazy people and hillbillies live.

Turns out learning doesn’t attract the desired demographic. Imagine that.

Any chance you could point me at that thread? I’m not sure what I’d search for to find crap BBC2 documentaries… I’ll try “crap BBC2 documentaries” but that may turn up too much political stuff.

About Horizon, the last really good one I remember was on the newly established(!) quark-theory and the eight-fold way. Which puts it back in – FSM help us – the eighties?

This isn’t the one, I’m not that old… See here how Horizon was better* when it was in black and white, with Gell-Mann and Feynman 1964.

  • As in: Made for adults, not competing for demographic with In the Night Garden and Waybooloo

On the plus side, I did see a very good programme on the Antikythera mechanism on BBC4 a couple months back. A rare case of multimedia used for good instead of evil. It actually explained the device and the investigation into it’s nature better than the wiki article does, through careful use of animation.

Slightly worryingly, one of the better recent natural history series was presented by Alan Titchmarsh. There was a lot of actual content.

Yeah sure, but it wasn’t a discussion about this as such - it was more just an aside made by Gyrate in the conversation that followed on from the OP that I responded to - so it might not really be what you’re after. This is more likely to be an in depth discussion of the failings of the BBC’s factual department.


Mostly I was just complaining about “Professor Brian Cox”, whom I find smarmy and irritating. It was revealed in a episode of “Would I Lie To You?” that during his rockstar days the roadies once gaffer-taped him to the lighting rig and left him there because he was too annoying. I had no trouble at all believing that one.

Some of the history presenters as well can strive a bit too hard for populist appeal and cross the line into inanity. OTOH you do get some real gems; I enjoyed the series of BBC4 math-themed shows not too long ago, and since BBC4 is pitching to a more erudite audience they tend not to dumb down overmuch.

And Dara O’Briain, who is a brilliant comedian, is also an excellent science and math presenter (having studied mathematics and theoretical physics at university). I could use more programs with him at the helm.