I must admit as I put pen to paper (I know it is not a pen it is many a finger typing on a keyboard, no paper either) that I am uncertain where to post this erm post. Do I post it here on the Melancholy Scientist site or move it over to my X-rayman.co.uk site? It is getting very confusing. If it is a sensible science piece then should it go there or here and if not what does this make this place?

No, no I have made a decision this, and by this I mean here, is social science and there is other science, proper science, arrrrrrrrgh - you know what I mean?

OK with that clearly not settled in my mind let us continue……………….


So yesterday (25/03/2013) I went to a Manchester Alumni event at Manchester University. Now technically I’m not certain if I am a Manchester Alumni or not. Let me clarify I did my degree at UMIST when it was the Manchester Victoria and UMIST (University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology) it had in fact just started on the road to complete separation. Remembering that UMIST came from MIST and MIST pre-dated everything else in Manchester (gosh there is a lot of wiki links in this post). So I got a dual award certificate at the end of my MChem. Then I started my PhD and well they had completely separated at this point so I got a UMIST PhD. But even before the end of my PhD they had started to merge again - what I know complex!

Now we find UMIST.ac.uk pointing to nothing and well only wiki pages keeping the flame a flying.

Lets continue regardless of my actual alumni status shall we seeing as they (Manchester that is) appear quite happy with it.

So I got the chance to go and see a “Wonders of Life” special screening in the biscuit barrel (Unversity Place) conference building. It was in lecture theatre B which was nice. It was really, really well organised. I mean really well. After I had registered I got emails with the invite and the directions to the location. I arrived and there were more people than you could imagine just helping take names, check invites and show you to the lecture theatre. My hat if I had been wearing one would definitely been taken off.1361818861651

And the event itself was amazing. Lots and lots of people. A complete mix of backgrounds. It was a PR event for definite but why not, if you have a dancing monkey make money from it.

Things started to go a little wrong when the dean erm head of facility erm, damn it I should have made notes, (Google says: The President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Manchester, Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell) started speaking. I loved how she related the program to being a BIG Manchester University collaborative project. Implying that the best of the best at Manchester had helped at some level and this seemed fine for the one and only @profbriancox. Yes Prof. Brian Cox from the Infinite Monkey Cage, and Apollo’s Children was going to be there live and speaking and all dreamy. Now I must admit at this point many of my friends for example @sam_c may have implied I have a man crush on Foxy Coxy (her words not mine). This is not totally true, I respect him for his lovely hair and soft dulcet tones. I actually respect him a lot for bring science to the masses a single person “tomorrow’s world”.

20130225_193135Now he did a little spiel and said we can ask him anything and he explained about the TV show and the episode we were about to see being one of his favourites and the last one filmed in the series. Brilliant - which one was it going to be? Arrrgh NUTs its the one with the terrible chemistry in it. Episode 3. NUTS. Ok well I can not really let that lie. I am going to have to ask the question now aren’t I?

So we all sat and I mean we all lots and lots of us sat in the dim purple lighting watching the TV episode on a BIG, BIG screen in HD and with very loud sound and well we just enjoyed it. It was great. There was even on occasion spontaneous laughter. Then came the question and answer session……


Professor Matthew Cobb and Professor Brian Cox - taking Questions and giving Answers

There were lots of questions being asked and I pretty much put my hand up near the second question and well I didn’t get to ask it until the end. It was in fact the penultimate question. Now I can’t really remember all the questions that were asked. Two that stick in my mind are:

> > Are you going to include in your next TV series a piece about conciousness - because many physicists now think that conciousness exists outside the body (cough nutter, cough - that is not very nice now - each to their own) > >


How do you get the balance between entertainment and content?

It was off the back of this question or though several had passed between I asked my question:

> > You know how you said that the goal of the program was to educate and entertain - You are aware that there are mistake in the chemistry aren't you? (or words to that effect). > >

To my surprise I got a yes of sorts and a chuckle from the audience. Brian was quick to instantly point out about the “art” and it has been fixed. I replied “not in the one we’ve just watched - still trivalent oxygen”. Then the co-presenter who I’ve not actually mentioned up until this point also said well there was also errors in the dialogue. But the general take home was that it was hard to error check on five hours of video.


Now my problem (I know it is one of many) is that it isn’t that hard to check all the “art” this is what gets the BBC into a lot of trouble. James May rather infamous show on chemistry had pentavalent carbon - come on now. If you are going to include something “like” a picture of a molecule then don’t pretend it is science. This isn’t science fiction now is it. We are dealing with science facts. The problem is that someone has been paid to make it look pretty and well at what cost. Now I was going to make the point that if the words had been spelt incorrectly people would have had a mental - but to be honest this is a weak argument by me because I see English how Brian see’s chemistry as an “art” and nothing other than something the rules of which can be bent or pushed to fit my needs. Paraphrasing of course.

And this leads me on to the point of this article and yes I know this is probably the longest ever blog piece I have written and it has broken my 1000 word rule somewhat.


Now rather unhelpfully I have begun to see science like I see programming and computers. Yes like the MATRIX. What are you on about John? I will explain.

If we think of science as layers we start with mathematics this is at the bottom it is the fundamental it is the assembly language - the “base code” of the universe. But very few read and write in assembly instead programs have been built to interpret to make useful to act as a construct on top of it. You write in a form that you can relate and it converts back to the assembly code. So physics does just this using mathematics as a tool. But what about chemistry and biology or the other physical sciences? Well the clue is in the name. They are higher languages still. More simplified more specialised for specific tasks but relying inherently on the physics of the atom, the electron and energy (kinetics, thermodynamic - all modules in the programs routines). And of course below that the supporting mathematics.

So does that put me at odds with the “art” the failures of Brian’s TV show. Well no. As Mr T puts it:

"a person who makes no mistakes" "is a person who makes nothing"

We are all human we all rely on the support of others and that is where I find it so annoying so frustrating. When the University of Manchester takes credit for assisting  puts its name to and on the program as PR boast but IT fails to spot the mistakes and it is in its reputation the damage and the blame should fall.

In the five episodes I spotted at lest four significant mistakes some are easy to show such as the failures in the “art” others are from over simplification of areas to the point of annoyance and again Brian gets another get out of gaol card because he said he wanted to pitch the show were it would educate and annoy.


So with all that said. I would recommend to go out and watch the TV show. To read the book? Perhaps after it has been proof checked for “art” errors and to engage with the science. It is edutainment but it is not education it is there to make you search to be intrigued and to rephrase the, erm, dean to inspire.

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