Tag Archives: science; tv; culture; science festival; top gear

Top Gear Science

I read a superb article yesterday by Sue Nelson in the Telegraph- you can read it here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/10350039/Women-in-TV-science-time-to-shift-out-of-Top-Gear.html 

I’ll sum it up in case you don’t read it. Nelson is pleased that science is now part of mainstream TV, in a way it hasn’t been before. Aren’t we all?  🙂 She points out that it is dominated by a number of presenters, and in the main, these presenters are male. No surprise there, we are all aware of the gender imbalance in science. However, the crux of her article is about the laddish, stand-up style that dominates these shows. The ‘boys-club’ feel, the matey bonding, the need to shout the loudest to be heard…

Thank you Sue Nelson, for finally helping me to figure out why I don’t enjoy science TV! As a scientist, and now working in public engagement, I’d figured I’d just had enough of sci-comm by the time I get home to enjoy science in my leisure time. But I’ve figured it out now- it’s not that it is a busmans holiday. It’s that I am not interested, or engaged, by the format!

I am a tomboy. I used to love TopGear and watched it avidly with my Dad. I was (and still am) genuinely interested in cars and engines, and miles per gallon and boot capacity stats. I had lots of Top Trumps as a kid. However, now TG leaves me cold. It’s like sitting in a pub with a bunch of slightly drunk, egotistical blokes who aren’t at all interested in your opinion. And Nelson is spot on- the science on TV is just like this.

A few years ago I did a really light touch bit of data capture with some Year 10 students attending a science day. We divided them into three groups given their verbal responses- enthusiasts, pragmatists and disengaged. Overwhelmingly, the enthusiasts were boys, with comments like ‘science is awesome’, ‘you get to blow things up’, while the pragmatists were female and made comments like ‘I want to do A level Sciences because I want to be a vet’, or ‘I want to work in science because it is well paid’. I never published this data, but I’m going to follow that up. Because this is pervading into popular culture. Science TV tend to be ‘isn’t science exciting oh my god wow’, presented by enthusiasts who tend to be male.

I woke up last night at 2am with the sudden realisation that every speaker on the Lancashire Science Festival programme so far is white and male! Why is this? Is the programme too full of ‘whizz bang’ science, and therefore confident men? Or are men just better at publicising themselves so I’m more aware of them? So I’m ending this blog post with a plea- any female scientists/presenters/broadcasters/journalists out there who’d like to take part, please let me know. We need you! Science needs you! We need to show the next generation a much more diverse set of role models.

Jo (JheatonATuclan.ac.uk), posting as myself, and not representing the views of the Engage UCLan group