Last week, I went to see one leg of Professor Brian Cox's UK tour. I wasn't sure what to expect and, with two degrees in physics and working as a freelance science writer, I'd even say I was a little arrogant about the show. Was I going to learn anything new?
Yes, but not in the way I expected.
The lecture itself was a tour de force - covering everything from cosmology to evolution. Equations were put up and explained. It was engaging, it was fascinating and Brian struck the balance between making science simple - but never dumbing it down at any point.
A Twitter-based Q&A session was also held with Brian's self-proclaimed sidekick and fellow Infinite Monkey Cager, Robin Ince.
My favourite question from the Q&A has to be "what does space smell like"? Brian postulated that as 80% of the matter in the universe is dark matter and that doesn't really interact with anything (let alone smell), then space doesn't smell of anything, really.
Another question struck a chord and has given me a whole new perspective on my work. Brian and Robin fielded the usual "Did the moon landings really happen?" question - but there was another part to this question:
How can we prove that the moon landings happened?
Hmm. Well, we can't unless we go up to the Moon and see if the footprints from Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are actually there. Even then, I'm sure someone will come up with a far-flung conspiracy theory.
So, what's the answer?
Brian went off on a wonderful tangent about trust. About how we have to trust what we are told by scientists. We may not understand the nuts and bolts of the scientific theories and work done behind the world's laboratory doors - but we have to trust what scientists are telling us.
And that's a tricky point.
How can we trust scientists?
This question of trust has been rattling around my head since seeing the show.
I'd like to put forward my own answer.
We need to build trust by demonstrating that science is simple.
Science is not the pursuit of an intellectually elite few. Brian pointed out how, as children, we are natural scientists and the simplest questions that children have no embarrassment about asking, can sometimes probe some of science's most fundamental questions.
Science is simple. Yet, sometimes the methods and the language we use to teach and describe science make it feel utterly inaccessible to anyone without a PhD.
That's when the trust breaks down. And that's what we need to change both within the scientific community and outside of it.
Non-scientists need to keep asking questions about the world we live in. Scientists need to find a way to answer these questions without putting people off their work (check out my Sunday Science posts for some jargon-free science explanations).
We need to keep our children asking questions about the world we live in. Experiments should be at the forefront of any scientific syllabus - and exams should take a back seat. Science is not based on regurgitating facts memorised in textbooks.
It's based on theory and experimentation. It's based on applying scientific principles to test something new or challenge a pre-existing theory.
We are all capable of asking the important questions about the world we live in. And we are all capable of listening to and challenging the answers we get back.
That's exactly what Professor Brian Cox is doing with his world-breaking UK tour on science.
He's demonstrating how science is big, complex but, fundamentally, it is simple and accessible to all.
We're all scientists. Science is simple. And we all need to leave our assumptions and arrogance about science at the door.
UPDATE: How I made Brian Cox nervous
You can only imagine the magnitude of the geek shriek I gave off when Brian retweeted my blog post. Not only because he has 2.5 million followers, but because he called me his "scientific peer". That's totally going on my CV...
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. So, I blog on three core topics:
Science and Technology
And I explain science with Lego in Sunday Science.
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