Brian Cox doesn’t dumb-down science. He does worse. He makes it disposable.

A couple of decades ago, when I was half of a failed long-term relationship (technically, a marriage) at its point of rupture, I clung desperately to all my security blankets – favourite books, CDs, DVDs, clothes and even my favourite TV – as a means of reassuring myself that despite the emotional turmoil I was going through, there could be continuity and reassurance.

When something similar happened again some 15 years later, my attitude had changed. It was an opportunity to dump all the meaningless dross that I had collected like flies around a cow-pat. The local recycling centre had never been so busy as books, old IT and other electrical gear, everything from the loft and shed and God only knows what else ended up in their tender care. It was remarkably easy to label previously important stuff as trivial and disposable. So, although it took 45 years to learn, these days I have a well-developed sense of what “disposable” means – trivial, unimportant, sidelined. So…

In today’s G2 supplement to the Guardian, TV presenter and former unknown member of the band D:Ream Brian Cox gets all hot and bothered at people who accuse him of dumbing down science. (link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/mar/24/brian-cox-wonders-of-the-universe).

He is right to be bothered by the accusation, because it’s not true. It’s not the science that has been dumbed down but the role of the presenter. Beautiful, long, lingering slow-motion shots of Brian in a desert, Brian standing on a mountaintop staring off into the sky while a camera helicopter circles overhead and the sun sets behind, Brian posing with his legs akimbo like his testicles need more air than those of the rest of us due to the heat given off by his brain, and Brian chatting to us like a mate in his hire car. We get it, Brian, the entire universe revolves around the massive black hole of your ego.

Cox has single-handedly turned the fine art of science presenting into a Katie Price impersonation competition. Me, me, me, it’s all about me.

But as a result of that, he has morphed science documentaries from the brilliant Horizons of the seventies and eighties and the still excellent Attenborough efforts into trivial, forgettable and worst of all, disposable parodies of reality television. “I’m a scientist, get me out of here”, if you will.

I don’t WANT to be Brian Cox’s mate in his car, I don’t WANT to be impressed by the skills of his helicopter pilot and I certainly don’t want to witness the airflow around Cox’s gonads. I want an authoritative, interesting and informative science documentary which conveys its message without me having to see the presenter at all. Just like they used to be, but so rarely are these days.

The thing about those is that they’re a lot more difficult to write, and can’t be rattled off in a few weeks like most pop science books or TV series. A lot more thought, skill and time is needed to put them together, and time is something a modern media whore has very little of these days.

I worry for the future of science on television if this is the direction it’s taking. When it comes to science, if the presenter becomes more important than what’s being presented, then the plot has been well and truly lost.

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